By Daniel Ross
As a result of a ruling in the Los Angeles Superior Court Wednesday, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer remains excluded from running horses under his name at Santa Anita at this time, but legal avenues offering the trainer a chance to return in a professional capacity to the facility remain open.
According to Hollendorfer’s attorney, Drew Couto, judge Mary Strobel denied “without prejudice” the ex parte temporary restraining order (TRO), Hollendorfer filed against The Stronach Group (TSG) in order to race and train at Santa Anita, having been barred from the facility since June. The California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT) are co-defendants in the complaint.
However, the judge gave Hollendorfer’s legal team the option of bringing the complaint back as a “notice motion for preliminary injunction,” Couto added. That hearing could happen within weeks at the earliest, he said.
“The reason that she denied it was, she felt she did not see exigent circumstances or an emergency,” said Couto about the decision, adding that TROs are “typically something that judges don’t like to grant,” as it’s an “extreme” legal remedy.
“But the preliminary injunction is a notice motion, and they take a different view on that. We’ll see,” Couto said, adding that he believed the judge didn’t take issue with other important aspects of the complaint.
“She had no questions about irreparable harm. She had no questions about the other issues the Northern California judge had an issue about,” he said, referencing an earlier hearing regarding the trainer’s ability to race and train at the TSG-owned Golden Gate Fields. Hollendorfer remains professionally barred from that facility.
In a statement, TSG attorney, Richard Specter, wrote, “We are gratified that the Los Angeles County Superior Court has permitted our exclusion of Jerry Hollendorfer from Santa Anita Park to remain effective, just as the Alameda County Superior Court did last month with respect to his exclusion from Golden Gate Fields. The Stronach Group remains committed to making horse racing as safe as possible for both the horses and jockeys at its facilities.”
Back in June, Santa Anita management told the trainer to remove his horses from TSG-owned facility, along with some 60 horses from Golden Gate Fields. The action was taken after four Hollendorfer-trained horses were catastrophically injured at Santa Anita during a six-month period, along with two at Golden Gate since November of last year. During this time, Hollendorfer has had no formal regulatory ruling against him.
Del Mar initially followed Santa Anita’s lead in barring Hollendorfer from their grounds, but that ban was subsequently overturned in the San Diego County Superior Court. However, Hollendorfer’s request for a preliminary injunction to be allowed to return to TSG’s Bay Area facility was denied earlier in September. The operators of Los Alamitos racetrack have not barred Hollendorfer from their facility.
Since the resumption of racing at Santa Anita in late September, Hollendorfer’s assistant Dan Ward has been permitted to run horses under his own name at Santa Anita.
In extensive legal filings prior to Wednesday’s hearing, both sides laid out cases that largely resembled the arguments made in those prior hearings.
In terms of new details since the Golden Gate Fields-related hearing at Alameda County Superior Court, Specter wrote in his declaration that Hollendorfer has been given “the provision of Fair Procedure,” and cites a meeting at Santa Anita Sept. 12 attended by Hollendorfer and his legal team, along with representatives from TSG and the CTT.
At the conclusion of the meeting, “I provided reasons for Plaintiffs exclusion, as well as specifically referring the parties to the evidence which we had submitted to them in the Alameda County Superior Court case, instead of providing that same information again at the meeting,” Specter wrote.
According to Couto, Hollendorfer’s position is that the September meeting doesn’t constitute “fair procedure” because it didn’t occur before the trainer was barred from Santa Anita’s grounds in June.
“In California law, you have to have fair procedure before you deprive somebody of their longstanding occupational rights,” Couto said, adding that “it was a contractual meeting in which the grievances were discussed for the purposes of [an expedited] arbitration” to be held afterwards if both parties were not in agreement. If TSG disputes that, “they are not being honest,” Couto said.
Besides the usual legalize, the filings included accusations of a much more personal nature, both sides taking aim at the other’s professional and ethical acumen.
For example, TSG chief veterinary officer, Dionne Benson, wrote in her declaration: “I have reviewed the official Veterinarian’s List to ascertain the number of horses trained by Mr. Hollendorfer that had been placed on the Veterinarian’s List. Mr. Hollendorfer has had far more horses on the Veterinarian’s List than any other trainer with similar sized barns. Moreover, a disproportionately high number of Hollendorfer’s horses on the Veterinarian’s List were judged to be unsound.”
TDN has not independently verified Benson’s claims.
In Hollendorfer’s own 12-page declaration, the trainer instead blames the track surface for the rash of fatalities during the dpring.
“Many horsemen, including myself, generally considered the meet and its racing surfaces to have been incredibly poorly managed, inconsistently maintained, and an overall disaster,” Hollendorfer wrote.
“After working tirelessly for more than 40 years to grow a successful business in California, to employ dozens of people, pay my taxes, and to help Defendants make their own successful, I am about to lose my business and sole source of income because of Defendants’ actions, not my own,” Hollendorfer added.
In an emailed statement responding to questions about Wednesday’s hearing, TSG wrote, “As Santa Anita’s Fall meet unfolds, The Stronach Group will continue to partner with industry stakeholders to protect horses and riders, honoring the tradition of this legacy sport to transform with the modern age. As a part of our commitment, we expect all individuals who stable, race, or train horses at our facilities to match the level of safety and accountability that we demand.”
According to Couto, the new hearing could be held as soon as 15 days, and as much as three months, from when the preliminary injunction is filed. “It’s more than likely a month, but I’m just guessing until I hear from the court,” Couto said.