Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has bolstered his national profile in recent years with champions Blind Luck and Shared Belief, but he has long been one of the top trainers in the U.S. (All photos by Eclipse Sportswire)
The road to the Racing Hall of Fame usually weaves its way through the sport’s classic races.
It’s the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup races that are the key ingredients in generating the outpouring of respect and acclaim that’s one day rewarded with a plaque in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Unless you’re Jerry Hollendorfer.
In 35 years as a trainer, Hollendorfer has trained just two champions.
He’s won only a single Breeders’ Cup race.
His next Triple Crown win will be his first.
Yet few horsemen of any era have been as proficient as Hollendorfer in the art of winning races and held in such high esteem by his peers.
The undisputed king of Northern California racing, the 68-year-old Hollendorfer has won 6,721 races (through Sept. 1), a figure that places him third on the sport’s all-time list. He’s seventh on the all-time earnings list with a total of $154,275,332.
From 1986-2008, he won every training title at Bay Meadows Race Course and Golden Gate Fields, a combined streak of 69 straight meets.
It’s all part of a body of work that earned Hollendorfer a spot in the Racing Hall of Fame in 2011 and a warm welcome to the shrine during his induction ceremony by another of the sport’s living legends, fellow trainer and Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
“You have been a real role model, with your work ethic, and the way you conduct yourself,” Lukas said to Hollendorfer. “You're a credit to the Hall of Fame trainers' fraternity, and we welcome you.”
LUKAS AND HOLLENDORFER
Best known for his dominance of Northern California racing for much of his career, Hollendorfer has become much more than a regional hero at an advanced age when most Americans would be pondering retirement.
In his first two decades as a trainer, Hollendorfer was no stranger to the winner’s circle. He was second nationally in wins in 1999 (224) and 1998 (241) and won at least 192 races each year from 1988 through 2000.
But during those years, he trained only a handful of horses who dazzled on a national stage. One was Lite Light, a filly owned by the flamboyant rap superstar MC Hammer, who won the 1991 Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks and finished second by about an inch to Meadow Star after an epic stretch duel in the famed 1991 edition of the Mother Goose Stakes that became known as “The Mother of All Gooses.”
He also notched his first $1-million victory in the 1988 Hollywood Futurity with King Glorious, who also won the 1989 Haskell Invitational Handicap and Ohio Derby.
Yet, it wasn’t until the 21st Century arrived that the skills honed in Northern California were given wide exposure on the sport’s biggest stages. An increasing number of graded stakes winners were groomed in Hollendorfer’s barn in recent years as his already lofty win totals began to rise. He won a career-best 263 races in 2001 and topped that with a personal best in 2004 with 308 wins.
In 2008, he won the Santa Anita Handicap with Heatseeker and the $1 million Delaware Handicap with Hystericalady.
He topped that in 2010 with a campaign that was nothing shy of sensational. He saddled his first champion, guiding the filly Blind Luck to an Eclipse Award as the top 3-year-old filly in a season that included wins in the Kentucky Oaks, Delaware Oaks and Alabama Stakes. Tuscan Evening was a perfect 6-for-6 that year, including a win in the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes, before she tragically died after suffering a pulmonary hemorrhage. He also recorded his first Breeders’ Cup win when Dakota Phone captured the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
HOLLENDORFER WITH BLIND LUCK
Hollendorfer has yet to slow down. In 2013, he set a personal record for earnings with $11,221,761 in a year that produced his second Eclipse Award with champion 2-year-old male champion Shared Belief, winner of the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity.
He also notched Grade 1 victories in the Metropolitan Handicap with Sahara Sky, the Clement L. Hirsch with Lady of Fifty, the Test Stakes with Sweet Lulu and the Del Mar Futurity with Tamarando. He finished 2013 third in wins with 241, marking the 27th straight year he cracked the national Top 10.
Hollendorfer is in the midst of another outstanding season this year as he won the $1 million, Grade 1 Pacific Classic with Shared Belief, stretching the undefeated gelding’s record to a perfect 6-for-6, and the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes with Let Faith Arise. With $8,963,239 in earnings so far in 2014, he’s currently third among trainers on the national list.
It may have taken more years than it should have, but fame has finally – and rightfully - shined on Hollendorfer.
HOLLENDORFER TALKS WITH JOEL ROSARIO BEFORE A RACE
“Blind Luck was the final kick in the pants that got me in here,” Hollendorfer said during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. “We took her everywhere and she never let us down for one minute. The East Coast is important, and sometimes they don't know what we do out on the West Coast, but there are a lot of very good horses and trainers there and a lot of competition.
“I'm very grateful to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I'm humbled to be standing next to so many people that have done so many things. I'd like to dedicate this plaque to all the racing fans of America. This plaque will remain at Saratoga and it is forever yours.”
In that 2011 speech, Hollendorfer’s voice cracked with emotion as he thanked a person who has played a major role in his success, his wife Janet, who has been his chief assistant for many years. Janet has battled cancer since 2009 and was unable to attend in the Hall of Fame ceremonies for her husband.
“Janet’s been the glue that’s held this stable together for all these years, the catalyst that makes everything go,” Hollendorfer said to reporters following his induction. “Without her and a number of other people that help a trainer, you couldn’t win a lot of races.”
Working so closely with him, Janet, better than most, knows how well the title “Hall of Famer” befits her husband - even if his résumé lacks a victory in Churchill Downs’ featured race on the first Saturday in May.