Updated August 1, 2019 - 5:41 pm
I suspect that no one is as interested as I am in the decision by The Stronach Group, the owner of Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, and then Del Mar to ban trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from the grounds, but I’m going to spill a bit more ink on the case anyway — as I’m sure you’d have me do if someone denied you the right to make a living without any explanation.
A Superior Court judge in San Diego on July 26 granted a preliminary injunction that ended Del Mar’s ban of the Hall of Fame trainer.
The judge concluded that, “Mr. Hollendorfer will suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not issued” and added that, “The plaintiffs have also submitted sufficient evidence for the court to conclude they are likely to prevail on the merits of their claims.”
The upshot is that Hollendorfer has been given stalls at the track and will begin entering horses under his name. Fittingly, the first horse the 72-year-old trainer will saddle is stable star Vasilika in Saturday’s Yellow Ribbon Stakes.
If you’ve forgotten the backstory, Hollendorfer had four horses in his shedrow die during the hideous Santa Anita meeting that ran through winter and spring, in which a total of 30 horses perished. The Stronach Group apparently decided to make Hollendorfer the sacrificial lamb and ordered him off the grounds there and at Golden Gate Fields near the end of the meet.
Del Mar followed suit, apparently fearing that a breakdown by any Hollendorfer horse would bring down the wrath of PETA and other animal rights activists.
Hollendorfer won’t be quite the force he usually is at Del Mar, as he only has 17 horses this year compared to 50 last year, according to his attorney, Drew Cuoto. He had to sell his ownership shares in many horses in order to transfer them to his former assistant, Dan Ward, who will be running many of those horses under his name.
Cuoto hinted that other legal actions might be forthcoming. “One step at a time,” he said of last week’s court victory, “but Santa Anita, the Stronach Group and Golden Gate Fields are all on the radar.”
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicapping crew is again going bicoastal this week, tackling the $1 million Whitney Stakes, a stacked Grade 1 that is a “win and you’re in” contest for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, at Saratoga and the aforementioned $200,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Del Mar.
The former, a 1⅛-mile test on the main track at the Spa, drew four of the top older horses in training — McKinzie, Thunder Snow, Vino Rosso and Yoshida. The crowd ‘cappers are sticking with 6-5 morning line favorite McKinzie, a 4-year-old son of Street Sense trained by Bob Baffert who has finished first or second in all but one of his 11 career starts. They like Thunder Snow (3-1) and Vino Rosso (6-1) to complete the trifecta.
“McKinzie is always well placed and has won or been within a length of the winner in 10 of his 11 races,” wrote handicapper Joe “Ponypicker” Mainardi of the group’s choice.
Can’t knock McKinzie, but I will try to beat him with Preservationist (4-1), who knocked off another top older runner in Catholic Boy last out in the Suburban Stakes at Belmont. I’ve got McKinzie to place and Vino Rosso to show.
In the Yellow Ribbon, a 1 1/16th-mile tour of the turf course for fillies and mares, the crew is expecting the 7-5 morning line favorite Vasilika to make Hollendorfer’s 2019 debut at Del Mar a memorable one. They’ve got Beau Recall (7-2) penciled in for second and Valedictorian (6-1) in third.
Betting against Vasilika has been a quick route to the poor house since Hollendorfer claimed her for $40,000 on Feb. 11 last year and you might think I’d learn my lesson after trying to beat her once before in one of our featured races. But I think Toinette (6-1) can spring the upset for fellow Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale and little-known but talented jockey Ruben Fuentes.
I’ll use Vasilika to place and Beau Recall to show.
Ellis Starr’s Whitney Stakes analysis
In this year’s Whitney Stakes, I think Yoshida (JPN) can post the upset win just as he did last year when victorious in the Woodward Stakes over the track. In the Woodward, Yoshida was making his 11th career start but first on dirt. Rallying from 10th of 14 in the early stages, Yoshida was relentless in the early stretch drive and won convincingly in a strong field to earn a career-best 116 Equibase Speed Figure. Two months later in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Yoshida put in another big rally as he was 13th of 14 with a quarter mile to go, but the rally fell just a bit short as he finished fourth. Still, he was just a neck from Thunder Snow and beaten under two lengths for the win. I think the key to Yoshida returning to winning form is the jockey change to Joel Rosario, who had never ridden the horse prior to the Woodward last year and who has not ridden the horse in four races since then. Additionally, as amazing as Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott’s career has been, his recent record of consistency in these types of races must be pointed out. According to research from STATS Race Lens, over the past two years, Mott has won with 16 of 66 starters in dirt route stakes and 53 percent of those horses have finished in the money. Better yet, the flat bet profit on betting those 66 horses to win is 75 percent, the equivalent of $3.50 for every $2 wagered. Making his second start since returning from a trip half way across the world to run in the Dubai World Cup in March, I feel Yoshida can repeat his effort at Saratoga last year and earn a trip to the Classic for the second year in a row.
McKinzie is a tough competitor who has only finished worse than second one time in 11 races, that poor effort coming in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Since then, McKinzie has won the Malibu Stakes and the Alysheba Stakes while placing in three other graded stakes, most recently in the Metropolitan Mile with a strong 117 figure. In the Metropolitan, McKinzie and jockey Mike Smith found themselves in significant traffic with about one-quarter mile to run and lacked room until the 1/16th pole. When they did find a clear path to run, McKinzie extended his stride and was cutting into the winner’s margin to the wire. As such, McKinzie should be considered a very strong contender to win the Whitney.
Vino Rosso is an improving 4-year-old who tied his career-best figure of 114 winning the Gold Cup at Santa Anita at the end of May. Not seen since then, Vino Rosso has been in steady training for this race at Saratoga. Winner of the 2018 Wood Memorial Stakes at the distance of the Whitney, Vino Rosso may only need to step up his game the slightest bit to be very competitive in this race, which is certainly possible as he’s still not fully mature.
Thunder Snow does not have the probability to win, in my opinion, of the three previously mentioned horses, but he could easily run well enough to be part of the exacta or trifecta as he’s been in his last five races. Three of those races were in the U.S. and the two that weren’t were both wins in the Dubai World Cup. Thunder Snow missed by a head last fall in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and in his most recent race, following this year’s World Cup, he finished third in the Metropolitan Handicap, a neck behind McKinzie. Having earned a 117 figure in the Metropolitan, Thunder Snow once again proved competitive in top company and could be so again in the Whitney.
The rest of the Whitney field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures: Forewarned (101), Imperative (104), Monongahela (113) and Preservationist (111).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.