Judge: Del Mar must allow Hollendorfer to train, race horses at track
A San Diego Superior Court judge on Friday, July 26, granted a preliminary injunction that allows Jerry Hollendorfer to race and train horses at Del Mar for the remainder of the summer meet.
After hearing arguments from California Thoroughbred Trainers attorney Darrell Vienna and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club lawyer Chris Jaczko, Judge Ronald Frazier affirmed his tentative ruling filed Thursday, July 25, in which he concluded DMTC could not deny Hollendorfer working access to the racetrack because it had not fulfilled its obligations to arbitrate with him, per a contract between the track and CTT.
In the hallway outside the court room, Hollendorfer, 73, said, “I feel free to go to Del Mar and participate in the meet. I’m grateful the judge ruled in our favor.”
Hollendorfer did not say when he would resume training at Del Mar. He said he would be there Sunday, July 28, to watch two of his former horses – now running in the name of his longtime assistant, Dan Ward – race.
DMTC issued a statement Friday afternoon, July 26, stating it would abide by the court order to allow Hollendorfer’s participation.
“We will continue to work with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that Del Mar remains among the safest Thoroughbred racetracks in the industry,” the statement read.
The judge set a status conference for Oct. 25.
Before the seven-week summer meet began July 17, Del Mar informed Hollendorfer he would not be afforded stalls following his ban from the two California tracks owned by The Stronach Group. Hollendorfer was asked by TSG to vacate his stalls at Santa Anita Park on June 22 after a fourth horse he trained was euthanized following a breakdown in training.
The incident came amid the deaths of 30 horses in training and racing at Santa Anita that brought national attention to the issues of equine treatment and safety. Hollendorfer had two other horses die this year at TSG-owned Golden Gate Fields in Northern California.
Del Mar expressed concern directly to Hollendorfer and in a court filing said his presence during its meet would be a public relations problem for the track.
The judge’s decision hinged on the language of the Race Meet Agreement between the CTT and DMTC. Section VI of the agreement states that “So long as the trainer is duly licensed, track will not discriminate in any way against any trainer … or by way of any arbitrary capricious conduct by track.”
It further states disputes between trainers and tracks will go to arbitration before an independent hearing officer.
Vienna and Hollendorfer’s attorney, San Diego-based Drew Couto, argued that in not choosing to arbitrate with Hollendorfer, Del Mar “created unreasonable risk of immediate and irreparable harm” to the trainer.
Jaczko contended Del Mar did give Hollendorfer a fair opportunity to state his case at a meeting held July 8 at Del Mar.
“We went through a fair process, your honor,” Jaczko said. “There’s nothing that requires it to be arbitration.”
No arbitrator was present at the meeting, and Couto has contended Del Mar misrepresented the nature of the conference.
“That was painful to us,” Couto said. “It didn’t smack of good faith.”
On Friday, July 26, in an exchange with Jaczko as he pleaded Del Mar’s case, Judge Frazier said, “I’m not saying that by granting this preliminary injunction that you don’t have a right to do what you do. All I’m saying is you have to have an arbitrator tell you that. That’s the purpose of this injunction.”
Central to DMTC’s argument was that as a business it had a right to make choices that would be in its best interests. Jaczko contended those decisions were neither “capricious” nor “arbitrary.”
“It’s a public business,” Jaczko told the judge. “It’s incredible to suggest that a decision that’s made to avoid bad publicity can’t be a valid business decision.”
Jaczko said Frazier’s ruling would result in regulation in horse racing being “flipped on its head.”
“Now you have the right to participate until I can prove that my reason to exclude you isn’t arbitrary or capricious, and that’s not what the law is,” Jaczko said. “That’s what’s happening here. The status quo is being entirely upended.”
Both sides argued they have been damaged by the Hollendorfer issue at Del Mar.
The trainer, who is in the Hall of Fame and has started more than 33,500 horses in his career, said outside the courtroom he has lost approximately 50 percent of his stable since the initial ban by Santa Anita. Hollendorfer ran horses at Los Alamitos during its recent short meet and has been participating in the summer fairground circuit in Northern California.
“When something goes away, it’s lost,” Hollendorfer said. “You can’t count on it coming back. People couldn’t wait for a decision to come down, so some of them felt they had to move their horses, and they did.
“It’s been very difficult getting through this,” Hollendorfer said. “I’ve lost business and I suppose people see that in a very negative way.”
Jaczko argued Del Mar would suffer more damage to its reputation than Hollendorfer.
“The public will see Mr. Hollendorfer training at Del Mar,” the attorney said. “There’s already enough clamor in the media and the press about Mr. Hollendorfer’s record at Santa Anita. That will damage Del Mar’s reputation. The public isn’t going to see the fact that the court ordered it. The public will assume that Del Mar permitted it.”
Asked on Friday, July 26, if he would consider any new approaches to his training in the aftermath of the controversy, Hollendorfer said, “If I had to guess, my stable does more with horses every day than any other stable I know of. We examine every horse, every day from head to toe. We take them out of the stalls and jog them down the row and make sure they’re sound before we consider taking them to the race track.
“I think we’re doing plenty to ensure the safety of our stable. If somebody else has a suggestion to do more, I’m certainly willing to listen to that.”
According to statistics compiled by Equibase, since the beginning of his ban at Santa Anita, Hollendorfer has started 26 horses at four California tracks and none has suffered a breakdown.
At Del Mar, there were two deaths during morning training July 18 when a 2-year-old unraced horse bucked off its rider and ran into the path of another horse. Both horses suffered cervical fractures and died on the track.
Beyond that incident, Del Mar has not suffered a breakdown in training or racing. According to track statistics, through Thursday, July 25, 1,411 horses have run in timed workouts and 444 started in races.
-- Tod Leonard is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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