By Dan Ross
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has filed a petition for writ of mandate and damages in San Diego County Superior Court against the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) arguing the agency has failed to exercise its regulatory authority and intercede in disputes where several California racing associations have barred the trainer from their grounds.
The petition also raises bias and conflict of interest concerns within the CHRB, contending that these issues have compromised the board's ability to exercise its oversight authority in an impartial manner.
In June of last year, The Stronach Group (TSG) banned Hollendorfer–one of California's most prolific trainers–from Santa Anita after four of his horses were catastrophically injured between the end of 2018 and the first half of 2019, when the facility experienced a well-publicized spike in equine fatalities. The trainer remains barred from all TSG facilities in California, including Golden Gate Fields.
Last summer, Del Mar management similarly attempted to bar Hollendorfer from their facility—an action that Hollendorfer subsequently overturned in court. Del Mar president, Josh Rubinstein, said that Hollendorfer requested and was granted 25 stalls this summer at Del Mar.
In an email, Drew Couto, Hollendorfer's attorney, wrote that the CHRB has failed to exercise its statutory and legal obligations towards Hollendorfer in a “timely or impartial fashion,” and as such, “Jerry's career has been damaged beyond comprehension, despite his being a licensee in good standing at all times. The CHRB has left Jerry languishing in uncertainty in California for over a year. That's simply inexcusable.”
Couto added that it appears the CHRB “implicitly condoned” actions taken by the racetracks whereby they intentionally “shifted the narrative” from safety issues “inherent to dirt racing surfaces and poor track management” onto Hollendorfer.
The CHRB's actions “deprived Hollendorfer of his occupational rights as a licensee, without any of the protections and processes afforded licensees under the law” Couto added, describing the CHRB's legal obligations as “some of the most important duties and responsibilities of a state regulatory body and licensing agency.”
When asked for a response to the petition, CHRB spokesperson Mike Marten wrote that the board does not comment on pending litigation.
The petition argues that those California tracks that have barred Hollendorfer from training and racing on their premises have used him as a “scapegoat” in response to much broader horse welfare problems, and took these actions in breach of the race meet agreements signed between the trainers and the racing associations.
Because the CHRB is charged with “implementing and enforcing the law equally within its statutory authority and jurisdiction,” it has failed to afford Hollendorfer his rights as a licensed trainer, the petition contends.
“Petitioner seeks judicial relief because, despite his possession of a valid license and subsequent denial of occupational rights and privileges, and substantial economic interests, the CHRB has wrongfully refused to act in conformity with the law, and has thus further deprived Petitioner of his vested fundamental rights–the ability to pursue his licensed occupation and livelihood–without due process and/or equal protection under the law,” the petition states.
Perhaps most damningly, the petition lays out an argument that the CHRB has “abused its discretion and abrogated its duties,” including suppressing evidence and information, covering-up its own involvement in “exclusionary actions,” and denying the existence of possible conflicts of interests among board members.
The petition states that at the end of August last year, Hollendorfer's legal representative told the CHRB's chief investigator of concerns that the board was unable to adjudicate on Hollendorfer's complaints, related to his exclusion, as a result of a “pattern of concealed acts and conduct, the appearance of impropriety, and actual and potential conflicts of interest on the part of several CHRB board members.”
One of the examples given in the petition includes the much-publicized co-ownership of the Richard Mandella-trained Fravel between former board members Chuck Winner and Madeline Auerbach, Tim Ritvo, former TSG CEO, and Stacie Clark, wife of Mike Rogers, president of the TSG's racing division.
As a result of that discussion, the petition claims, “Petitioner's counsel understood Respondent's Chief Investigator to have confirmed that the CHRB was suspending its investigation into Hollendorfer's complaints.”
Also detailed is an email that Rubinstein sent to Winner, Auerbach, former CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker, and the board's legal counsel in light of the San Diego Superior Court's tentative ruling last year allowing Hollendorfer to train and race at the facility during the summer meet.
In the email, Rubinstein argues that the track's attorney “may be able to sway the judge in person tomorrow,” but also lays out alternate contingency plans in the event Hollendorfer is successful, including rough ideas as to an official track statement.
The petition contends that the email “reflects a preliminary, additional and continuing level of coordination between Respondent and the Racing Associations, and confirms both Respondent's willingness to abrogate its licensing duties and responsibilities to those private entities, and to act with bias toward Petitioner.”
Rubinstein failed to respond to a request for comment before deadline.
The petition–which calls for the CHRB to conduct a hearing on Hollendorfer's track bans before “impartial neutral hearing officers”–is the latest in a long series of legal actions that Hollendorfer has taken over the past year as he seeks a professional return to the California racing circuit as a whole, along with redress for the economic toll that events of the past 12 months have had on his career.
At the end of April, Hollendorfer filed a first amended complaint against the Santa Anita-based Los Angeles Turf Club (LATC) in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The trainer currently has a string at Monmouth Park, and throughout the past year, has never been barred from the Long Beach-located Los Alamitos racetrack, in Southern California.