While a tumultuous season at Santa Anita Park ends this weekend, the ongoing debate over racing’s future in Southern California has ratcheted up again.
In a CNN report published Friday, Dr. Dionne Benson, the newly hired chief veterinary officer for track owner The Stronach Group, said that when it comes to some trainers, “we're considering whether they will be welcome back to Santa Anita.”
The quote was paired with information on Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, who at CNN's press time was the trainer for three of 29 horses to die from injuries suffered as a result of racing or training at Santa Anita since Dec. 26, including the Breeders’ Cup winner Battle of Midway.
A prominent owner who works with Hollendorfer says the trainer was ordered Saturday pack up his barn and leave Santa Anita Park.
"He hasn't been asked. He's been told," said the owner, who was not prepared to comment further.
Hollendorfer later confirmed he has 72 hours to vacate the property.
“Santa Anita doesn’t want me here or at Golden Gate Fields," The Stronach Group's Northern California track, Hollendorfer said. "I thought that was premature.”
Racing wraps up Sunday at Santa Anita. Spokesmen representing Los Alamitos, the next track to open in the region for Thoroughbred racing on June 29, and Del Mar, which follows on July 17, said decisions had not been made as of Saturday afternoon regarding Hollendorfer's presence.
Earlier Saturday, Ray Paulick, publisher of Paulick Report, broke news of what appears the tipping point in The Stronach Group's decision. A fourth Hollendorfer trainee and 30th horse overall, the former claimer American Currency, suffered a fatal leg injury while training at Santa Anita. American Currency was a 4-year-old gelded son of Exchange Rate who finished last of five, 28 1/2 lengths back of first, in his last start on May 17.
“I don’t know why this horse pulled up this morning," Hollendorfer said. "We’re trying to check that out.”
Hollendorfer said he's "deeply hurt" by the loss but considers The Stronach Group's ruling "pretty extreme."
"I’ve been a Hall of Fame trainer for quite a few years now, and I’ve been on the racetrack for almost 40 years," he said. "I’ve run 33,500 horses. I haven’t had that many problems on injuries. I have had some injuries here at Santa Anita. I have lots of employees who work for me who are worried about — could they depend on me? I have about 100 horses that I’m training right now.”
Reports are American Currency, scratched out of $12,500 claiming race last Sunday, suffered fatal leg injury this morning. Last, beaten 27 lengths most recent start May 17 in $25,000 claimer, horse was claimed by Hollendorfer 2 starts back at Golden Gate April 27 for $20,000.— Ray Paulick (@raypaulick) June 22, 2019
A statement issued by The Stronach Group reads: “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. 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.”
Hollendorfer’s two runners in for Saturday at Santa Anita, The Nightingale in Race 9 and Dueling in Race 9, both scratched as a result.
Since racing and training were halted and an original set of safety measures implemented in March, stakes-winning trainer Mike Pender has received a 30-day suspension for training an injured horse, and William Morey is alleged to have violated medication rules.
Hollendorfer then went under closer scrutiny.
“We've just gotten some information about what he's done and his violations,” Benson, the chief veterinary officer, told CNN, which reported that Hollendorfer has been sanctioned 19 times since 2006 by the CHRB.
After another of Hollendorfer's horses, Kochees, died as a result of injuries in a May 25 race. Hollendorfer told the Associated Press that, “In my mind there is absolutely no doubt that we've done every single thing properly with Kochees and all the rest of our horses, too.”
A number of West Coast trainers have spread out their barns amid tumultuous times at Santa Anita, Hollendorfer included. He operates a New York string of about 20 horses overseen by assistant Don Chatlos, a Breeders' Cup-winning conditioner in his own right. But that’s not said to be as a reaction to fallout at Santa Anita but rather an owners’ preference to run his horses in stakes on the East Coast.
As for what's next, Hollendorfer said Saturday that “I’m still trying to deal with what got handed down to me this morning.”
Among Hollendorfer's current top horses in training is Vasilika, the Gamely Stakes (G1) winner and front-runner in the turf female division. Hollendorfer also trained a champion last year, Unique Bella, until her retirement due to injury.
According to Equibase, Hollendorfer's barn has saddled 7,617 winners throughout his career. Only the late Dale Baird (9,445) and another active Hall of Famer, Steve Asmussen (8,464), lead him on the all-time North American list.