Jerry Hollendorfer has been to thoroughbred racing in Northern California what the Golden State Warriors recently have been to the NBA: the gold standard.
But Hollendorfer, 73, has seen his image tarnished in recent weeks after being booted out of Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields and Del Mar in California and all New York Racing Association tracks. The ban came after four of his horses were among the 30 that suffered catastrophic injuries during the six-week Santa Anita meet. Among the four was Battle of Midway, third-place finisher in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. Hollendorfer also lost two horses during the fall-winter meet at Golden Gate Fields.
But when racing returns to the Sonoma County Fair this year, Hollendorfer's name is expected to be prevalent across the entry sheets. Racing will be featured at the fair Aug. 1 through 4 and 8 through 11.
"I have no problem with him racing at Santa Rosa,'' said Bob Moreno, racing secretary at the fair. "He is not suspended or anything. Why are they doing this? I mean, the man is in the Hall of Fame.
"He will have 20 horses stabled on the grounds. He usually runs about a dozen or so. So with the horses on the grounds I hope he runs more than that.’’
Hollendorfer is one of just three trainers in history — joining Dale Baird and Steve Asmussen — with more than 7,000 wins and at one time owned consecutive training title streaks of 37 at Bay Meadows and 32 at Golden Gate. His horses have earned nearly $200 million in his 40-year career, which earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Some, such as Los Alamitos owner and chairman Edward Allred, feel Hollendorfer is a scapegoat for the situation that festered during the Santa Anita meet. Allred allowed Hollendorfer to compete during the recent three-week meet at Los Alamitos, and issued the following statement at the time: "Los Alamitos will gladly provide stalls to Jerry Hollendorfer, a Hall of Fame trainer and an unexcelled horseman. 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."
There were no breakdowns by any of Hollendorfer's horses — or any horses for that matter — during the three weeks, said Moreno, who was also racing secretary for the Los Alamitos meet.
Santa Rosa is not impervious from the problem of horse fatalities.
Statistically — in figures compiled in the Jockey Club's Equine Injury Database — Santa Rosa actually ranks among the worst tracks in North America in terms of safety.
Of 26 tracks listed, last year Santa Rosa was third in horse racing fatalities per 1,000 starters with 2.43 behind Hawthorne in Illinois (2.99) and Churchill Downs (2.7), site of the Kentucky Derby.
In 2017 Santa Rosa was fourth at 1.93 behind Delaware Park (2.92), Remington Park in Oklahoma City (2.22), and Hawthorne (1.99).
In 2016, Santa Rosa topped the list at 3.37 deaths per 1,000 starters. Santa Anita was second at 2.83.
Of course the sample size at Santa Rosa is much smaller. With only about 500 horses running each year compared to several thousand at the major tracks, any fatality will be significant in the numbers.
But, fellow California fair tracks Ferndale and Fresno had zero fatalities listed in the three years, and Sacramento had none in 2017 and 2018 and 2.37 per thousand starters in 2016.
"We have had a couple the last few years,'' Moreno said. "I have told people that horses can run on cotton and still break down.''