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Hall of Fame trainer fires back in lawsuit against Del Mar

Updated July 18, 2019 - 6:40 pm

You knew it would come to this.

Hall of Fame horse trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and the California Thoroughbred Trainers are suing Del Mar Thoroughbred Club for denying him stalls at the just-begun 36-day meet where the “surf meets the turf.”

The lawsuit is not yet available for review online, but according to Drew Cuoto, the San Diego attorney who filed it, it seeks an emergency temporary restraining order against the track, a preliminary injunction against further action, declaratory relief and a finding that the track is in breach of its contract with thoroughbred trainers.

The judge hearing the case declined to intervene immediately on Thursday and scheduled the next hearing for July 26.

The decision to bar Hollendorfer, 73, who has won 7,622 races – third most of all time in the U.S. and Canada – follows a similar decision by The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park. I probably don’t need to remind you of what transpired there this winter and spring, but it was ugly: an astonishing 30 horses died at the track while racing or working out, including four trained by Hollendorfer.

Hollendorfer was singled out for punishment after track management rejected calls from state officials for it to end the meet early, a decision that was followed by the fatal breakdown of the Hollendorfer-trained American Currency during training. A statement at the time said only that Hollendorfer’s record “does not match the level of safety and accountability we demand.”

Cuoto noted that officials at Santa Anita did not present any evidence of wrongdoing or safety lapses by Hollendorfer or his help.

“We’ve been informed that there was nothing in the necropsy results to suggest any malfeasance on Mr. Hollendorfer’s part,” he said. “There has been no representation of any safety procedure or rule not followed. … I think this is an issue that largely one might term PR.

”They had been asked to suspend racing at the track because it had remained an unsafe racing environment, and they declined to do so. Their answer to the PR problem they created was to scapegoat Mr. Hollendorfer.”

Executives at Del Mar declined to comment on the lawsuit, but various industry publications have managed to get off-the-record comments indicating that they are worried about the “optics” if a Hollendorfer-trained horse were to break down at Del Mar.

But are the “optics” of denying a person the right to make a living any worse? To add insult to injury, Hollendorfer must sell his interest in the horses that were in his barn before they can run at Del Mar in his longtime assistant Dan Ward’s name.

“He feels as if they are taking away his life,” Cuoto said of his client. “… The emotional toll is immense.”

#RJhorseracing featured races

The #RJhorseracing handicappers are tackling a pair of opening weekend stakes races Saturday — the $75,000 Daisycutter Handicap, a turf dash for fillies and mares, and the $200,000 San Clemente, a turf mile for 3-year-old fillies.

In the former, the crew showed unprecedented unity by lining up unanimously behind the 7-2 morning line favorite S Y Sky, with Kentan Road (9-2) and Gypsy Blu (5-1) picked to fill out the minor placings.

I agree that S Y Sky is the one to beat, but I’ll try with Painting Corners (5-1), who may be too quick for this bunch. I’ve got S Y Sky for the place and A Little Bit Me (5-1) to show.

In the San Clemente, the crowd ‘cappers are venturing a little way out on a limb by backing Mucho Unusual, third choice on the morning line at 7-2, over Maxim Rate (3-1) and Stillwater Cove (5-2).

“Second start after four-month layoff. Improvement from last race puts her squarely in the hunt to win here,” wrote handicapper Andrew Milbrooke of the crew’s pick.

Much as it pains me, I’m on the favorite, Stillwater Cove, who was competitive against much tougher last year in Canada. I’ll take Mucho Unusual to place and Kalliniki ( 20-1) to show.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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