By Dan Ross
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, barred from The Stronach Group’s (TSG) California facilities since June of last year, has fired the latest legal salvo in his ongoing dispute with the company with a first amended complaint against the Los Angeles Turf Club (LATC)–at Santa Anita–filed late last month in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
“We’re playing the cards that we are dealt,” said Hollendorfer’s attorney, Drew Couto, about the reasons behind the latest complaint. “We sought provisional remedies from the outset–we’re trying to mitigate his losses by getting him back to work.”
TSG banned Hollendorfer–formerly one of California’s most prolific trainers numerically–from Santa Anita after four of his horses were catastrophically injured during a six-month period between the end of 2018 and the first half of 2019, when the facility experienced a well-publicized spike in equine fatalities.
Since then, Hollendorfer has been engaged in a series of legal battles designed to open the door for his broad return to the California racing scene, of which he has been a key player for decades. During this period, Hollendorfer has been permitted full access as a trainer to the Los Alamitos facility in Long Beach, and no formal regulatory action has been made against him.
Last July, Hollendorfer successfully filed a temporary restraining order against the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, enabling him to compete at the track’s boutique summer meet. Nevertheless, his attempts to once again train and compete at TSG’s facilities at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields–where two Hollendorfer trainees were fatally injured in November of 2018 and January of 2019–have thus far failed.
The most recent prior development came at the end of February, when an L.A. County Superior Court judge granted bothTSG’s motion to strike and its demurrer to Hollendorfer’s original complaint.
In an emailed statement, TSG attorney, Richard Specter, wrote that the defendants remain confident that Hollendorfer’s first amended complaint will “fail both factually and legally,” and that TSG will be filing another demurrer later this month.
“Both racetracks have the absolute right to exclude Hollendorfer, based upon his record and the applicable horse racing law,” Specter wrote. “In fact, we believe that we were obligated to do so in the best interest of horse racing, consistent with the Stronach Group’s position that the health and welfare of horses is our paramount concern.”
Nevertheless, Couto maintains that attempts to remedy the matter through proper channels–including “arbitration”–have been ignored. “If none of the provisional remedies came to pass, and the administrative remedies were ignored, then the only other option is to seek damages,” Couto said. “That’s why the complaint was amended.”
According to the amended complaint, Hollendorfer’s legal team has also filed two related writs with the Superior Court for the County of San Diego against the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), each of which is “anticipated to have a direct bearing on material issues in this matter,” the complaint states.
“The related matter involves the same individual Petitioner as Plaintiff herein, and arises from the same or substantially identical transactions, incidents, and/or events, requiring resolution of the same or substantially similar questions of law and/or fact as such relate to certain administrative processes and the interpretation/application of several CHRB Rules and regulations,” the complaint states.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted normal operations in San Diego County, this related case has not yet been assigned a number or department, nor has the clerk issued the summons, the complaint states.
Couto said that he was unable to comment on the CHRB writ “as the San Diego Court is still in a stasis because of COVID-19. And until that writ comes out of queue and gets processed, and I can serve it, we can’t say anything more than I’ve said in the complaint.”
A CHRB spokesperson explained that the agency “does not comment on matters under litigation.”
Substantively, the amended complaint against the LATC is centered around an argument that Hollendorfer’s legal team has been making from the start: that the trainer has been denied fair procedure as contractually outlined in the race meet agreement and stall agreements he had signed with TSG.
But the complaint also lays out a number of other key points, including how Hollendorfer has suffered “irreparable harm and significant damages.” To highlight its point, the complaint states that “as a result of TSG’s actions, Plaintiff’s stable has been reduced from just over 120 Thoroughbreds on June 22, 2019, to 38 horses as of the filing of the First Amended Complaint.”
In lieu of being able to race at Santa Anita, Hollendorfer was based at Oaklawn Park this winter. According to Equibase, he had 12 wins from 87 starts, accruing more than $500,000 in prize money. In Horse Racing Nation last week, Hollendorfer explained that he was relocating to Churchill Downs. The spring/summer meet there begins May 16.