By Bill Finley
With opening day at Del Mar only a week away, the status of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer still remains up in the air as officials at the San Diego-area track have yet to make any official announcement regarding whether or not he will be allowed to race there.
Whether or not Hollendorfer will be able to compete at Del Mar became an issue after he was banned at Santa Anita and told to take all of his horses off the grounds after a fourth horse under his care had to be euthanized during the meet that concluded June 23. Santa Anita’s decision fell under the category of “house rules.” The California Horse Racing Board did not take any action against Hollendorfer and he is currently not serving any suspension.
Many of his horses were relocated to Los Alamitos, where he was allowed to stable and race.
In the meantime, Hollendorfer, his lawyer Drew Couto and Del Mar officials have been very careful about what they will and will not say about the situation. However, with time running out before the first race is run at Del Mar and with the New York Racing Association’s apparent decision to also ban Hollendorfer, there was speculation Del Mar would join Santa Anita and NYRA in their decision not to allow Hollendorfer to compete.
That may still be the case, but when the TDN asked Del Mar CEO Joe Harper whether or not Hollendorfer will be able to race at the meet, he replied, “Never say never.”
“We’ve had a couple of meetings and the ball is in Jerry’s court,” Harper said. “We are still looking to come up with an agreement that both Jerry Hollendorfer and Del Mar can agree to.”
Harper declined to elaborate on what might be going on behind closed doors and what it would take for Del Mar to allow Hollendorfer to race. He also declined to elaborate on why the “ball” might be in Hollendorfer’s “court,” when it would seem that the decision rests solely with Del Mar.
Couto told the TDN that while Del Mar has yet to tell him definitively that his client will not be given stalls for the meet, they have yet to allocate any stalls to him as of Tuesday.
“I don’t know that anything official has been said,” Couto said. “We have had a lot of candid discussions with Del Mar, which we appreciate. So far they have not been able to get over this ‘PR risk hurdle.’ We know that they are exceedingly uncomfortable and that’s where it’s at.
“Have they given him stalls? No. Have they made any announcements? No. But the discussions we have had with them is that they are exceedingly uncomfortable with doing so (allocating stalls to Hollendorfer) because of the PR risks.
“Del Mar feels it is a PR risk they don’t feel they can take despite the fact there’s no suspension, there’s no action against him and that over the past three years Del Mar has great numbers when it comes to horse safety and Jerry has been a big part of that. He has never been a problem as far as Del Mar is concerned. In fact, they think very highly of him. But our understanding is they don’t want to manage the possible PR problems that would come with giving him stalls.”
Though Couto did not sound confident regarding Hollendorfer’s situation at Del Mar, he, too, was not ready to give up hope that his client will be able to race at the meet.
“Everybody has been trying to explore pragmatic solutions to the problem and no one has completely given up hope on that prospect yet,” he said. “But if we are unable to come up with a pragmatic solution, then there are contractual provisions between Del Mar and the horsemen’s groups, in particular the the CTT (California Thoroughbred Trainers), that provide for process to deal with these types of situations. I know the CTT is active in suggesting that this processes need to be followed on Jerry’s behalf. If Del Mar is not motivated to do that, one would then have to consider what other options there are for Jerry to protect his interests. At this point, everything is on the table and we are considering everything.”
One possibility is that Hollendorfer could be denied stalls at Del Mar yet still be allowed to race there. According to Couto, whether or not an entry is denied falls under the duties of the stewards and not racetrack management. All three stewards at Del Mar are employed by the California Horse Racing Board.
“This is my position, the entries are controlled by the stewards,” he said. “If the stewards deny him entries, that’s an action by the California Horse Racing Board. The Horse Racing Board has taken no action against him and they cannot arbitrarily decline somebody’s entries because a racetrack says they have PR concerns. State actions involve due process and state actions are held to different standards than one might argue a private association can do. If the stewards decline to take his entries, then we have a whole different ball game that involves a state action and it becomes a monumental mess for everyone.”
Further complicating the Hollendorfer-Del Mar situation is the fact that the state of California owns the property that is home to the racetrack. Couto said that means Del Mar is not a private business, like Santa Anita is, and does not have the same rights that private businesses have to ban someone.