Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was told Saturday by The Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita Park, to vacate his stalls at the Arcadia, Calif., racetrack after the euthanasia of American Currency – the fourth horse from his barn to die since the winter meet began Dec. 26. American Currency sustained fractured sesamoids in his left front ankle at the beginning of a breeze on the infield training track Saturday morning.
The ban extends to all Stronach Group racetracks, which includes Golden Gate Fields in Northern California where Hollendorfer is the all-time leading trainer.
Santa Anita has been under intense scrutiny by local and national media and animal rights groups since a spike of fatal injuries began early this year during an unusually cold and wet winter in Southern California. American Currency became the 30th horse to die during training or racing at Santa Anita.
The fatal injury sustained by American Currency came the morning after a Friday report on CNN examined horse racing fatalities and identified Hollendorfer as having three fatalities at Santa Anita and two at Golden Gate. The three previous Santa Anita deaths were Psychedelicat on Dec. 30, Battle of Midway on Feb. 23 and Kochees on May 26.
“They've given me 72 hours to get off the racetrack,” the 73-year-old Hollendorfer said. “We've had a number of problems here this winter. We had three horses break down. Today we had a fourth one break down and they decided that they didn't want me to run my horses today or tomorrow and they don't want me to train here.”
Hollendorfer had two runners entered on both Saturday and Sunday, the final weekend of the meet. All four were scratched.
A statement from The Stronach Group, which implemented a number of safety and welfare reforms at its California tracks in March, said Hollendorfer is not welcome at any of their facilities.
“Individuals who do not embrace the new rules and safety measures that put horse and rider safety above all else, will have no place at any Stronach Group racetrack,” the statement reads. “We regret that Mr. Hollendorfer's record in recent months at both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields has become increasingly challenging and does not match the level of safety and accountability we demand. Effective immediately, Mr. Hollendorfer is no longer welcome to stable, race or train his horses at any of our facilities.”
A source close to Del Mar said the San Diego-area track, which begins its summer meet July 17, does not intend to provide stalls to Hollendorfer.
Los Alamitos owner and chairman Edward C. Allred said Hollendorfer would be welcome to stable and race at the Orange County track, which begins a three-week summer meet on June 29.
“Los Alamitos will gladly provide stalls to Jerry Hollendorfer, a Hall of Fame trainer and an unexcelled horseman,” said Allred. “Unless forbidden by the California Horse Racing Board, we intend to permit entries from Hollendorfer. We do not feel he should be a scapegoat for a problem which derives from a number of factors.”
American Currency was scratched from a $12,500 starter allowance at Santa Anita on June 16 after a last-place performance – beaten by over 28 lengths – in a $25,000 claiming race at Santa Anita May 17. Hollendorfer claimed the Exchange Rate gelding for $20,000 from O.J. Jauregui at Golden Gate April 27. Hollendorfer said he had planned to run the horse at Del Mar, where two of his three career wins have come.
“He got sick last week and we scratched him,” said Hollendorfer. “You have to wait a certain amount of days before you can work them. We turned in our slip to work him today and when he was starting off he took a bad step and fractured the sesamoids in his left front. I had gone over him thoroughly like we do every horse every day. He jogged down the road and jogged sound. As much as I'm involved, every time we lose a horse, it hurts deeply. The rest of the guys on the racetrack feel that way, too.”
Hollendorfer, who has more than 100 horses currently stabled in California, said he is exploring his options. He recently opened a New York division headed by assistant Don Chatlos. Dan Ward is his primary assistant in Southern California.
“I think my record is good,” said Hollendorfer, whose 7,617 career wins from 33,519 starts ranks him third all time and whose best horses include champions Blind Luck, Shared Belief and Songbird. “I can't remember breaking any down last year or the year before. Everybody gets one once in a while, but I've had four. We're surprised that this happened to us. I've been in the Hall of Fame a number of years now (he was inducted in 2011) and been in the business 40 years. I've started over 33,500 horses. I think my employees will go with me if I move my horses, which I'm planning on doing. I have those people to worry about. We don't know what happened this morning, but Santa Anita is not going to allow me to be on the grounds, and we think it's premature.
“I thought the ruling was extreme and I don't really think I've done anything wrong, but I would be willing to step away from racing for a while,” he said. Hollendorfer added: “I don't want to.
“I've practically devoted my whole life to this game,” he continued. “We get to the barn here at 3 a.m. and go over things to make sure everything is ready for training. I have employees that are the same way, and I'm very appreciative of that. We think we've done everything we can to ensure the safety or our horses. It hasn't worked out for us this meet. I put policies in place many years ago and we follow those at every racetrack. That includes going over the horses each day; when I'm not here, I get a report before they go to the racetrack and after they come back to the racetrack.”
Hollendorfer said he was “appalled” by the CNN report Friday night that included a comment critical of him by Jim Cassidy, president of California Thoroughbred Trainers. “Jerry is tunnel vision,” Cassidy told CNN's Nick Watt. “He does what he wants to do and that's it. If you don't like it, too bad.”
“I never thought people thought of me that way,” Hollendorfer said.
“I try to take all the good things in life and the bad things and even them out so I can stay on a steady keel,” he added. “As the leader of my barn, that's how I do my business.”
Drew Couto, a longtime friend of Hollendorfer, said most people don't know about the commitment the trainer made to Thoroughbred aftercare with the creation in 2015 of Down the Stretch Ranch in Creston, Wash., just west of Spokane. Hollendorfer started the equine therapy program for veterans with his wife, Janet, and longtime jockey agent Boone McCanna.
The mission of Down the Stretch, A 501(c)3 non-profit accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, reads: “The core of the foundation is to acquire Thoroughbred race horses that can no longer perform at the track because of age, injury or ability. These horses will be utilized to serve the community by providing therapeutic rehabilitation to veterans of war, both horses and humans will thrive from this unique opportunity. The horses will live out their lives in the comfort and honor they deserve and a wide range of veterans will benefit from the relationships they develop with these animals.
“Through the use of equine therapy, these incredible animals will bring comfort and companionship to veterans of war. These horses can effectively change the lives of American Veterans who suffer from a diverse range of disadvantages and disabilities.”
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