Judge allows banned horse trainer to return to Del Mar

Jerry Hollendorfer, the trainer of Chocolate Candy talks with the media during the morning training for the 135th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 27, 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

DEL MAR, Calif. — A San Diego judge granted a preliminary injunction Friday sought by Hall of Fame horse trainer Jerry Hollendorfer against the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which banned Hollendorfer from participation in the wake of a spate of horse deaths.

Hollendorfer, 73, was banned last month from Del Mar and sought legal intervention to allow him to participate at this summer’s racing season. He argued that Del Mar officials did not provide an adequate reason for precluding him from racing. The complaint alleges that he was notified on June 28 that he wouldn’t be assigned stalls because of “PR risks and considerations.”

In his written ruling, Judge Ronald F. Frazier ruled that Del Mar “arbitrarily” denied Hollendofer’s stall application without providing him a hearing on the matter. In court, Frazier noted that there was no definitive link tying Hollendorfer to the horses’ deaths.

Thirty horses died at Santa Anita during its most recent meet that started in late December and ended in late June. Four of the those horses were under Hollendorfer’s care. Hollendorfer also has been banned by the Stronach Group, which owns the Santa Anita racetrack, as well as the New York Racing Association.

J. Christopher Jaczko, representing the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, argued that whether or not Hollendorfer could be connected to the horses’ deaths, Del Mar’s decision to exclude Hollendorfer was a valid business decision based on the negative publicity Hollendorfer could bring.

“Mr. Hollendorfer’s record over the past six months in California is problematic,” Jaczko said. He alleged that banning Hollendorfer was also in the interests of horse safety and not just to avoid bad publicity. However, had avoiding negative publicity been the sole reason for the ban, Jaczko contended that would be a rational business justification on Del Mar’s part, particularly with the heightened scrutiny the horse racing industry is currently facing. “We’re not saying he did anything to kill those horses. We’re saying that in the best interest of our business, we don’t want the attention, we don’t want the clamor that we’re not doing everything we can to change business as usual,” Jaczko said.

Jaczko also said the ban does not cause “irreparable harm” to Hollendorfer, as he has the ability to participate in other races, including several ongoing and upcoming races in California.

Talking to reporters outside the courtroom, Hollendorfer said he was “very grateful” that Frazier ruled in his favor. “I’ve lost an awful lot of business because of this,” said Hollendorfer, who was not sure when he would begin participating in the Del Mar racing season.

Hollendorfer said he had confidence in his training methods, but would be open to recommendations to improve horse safety. “I would guess my stable does more with horses every day than any other stable that I know of,” Hollendorfer said. “We examine every horse every day from head to toe. We take them out of their stalls and jog them down the road and make sure that they’re sound before we even consider taking them to the racetrack. I think that we’re doing plenty to ensure the safety of our stable and if somebody else has another suggestion how to do more, than I’m certainly willing to listen to somebody’s opinion on that.”

Hollendorfer’s attorney, Drew Couto, said his record with equine fatalities was not as severe as Del Mar claimed, and laid blame to Stronach Group racetracks, identifying them as the common denominator in the deaths of horses under Hollendorfer’s care. “Where did (Hollendorfer) have equine fatalities? He had them at Stronach group racetracks,” Couto said. “They were horribly managed in our opinion this last year and that’s the cause of these issues.”

Couto did not make any definitive statements regarding any legal steps towards contesting Santa Anita’s ban. “One step at a time,” Couto said. “We had to take care of this issue. They (Santa Anita) are certainly on our radar and probably next up.”

Another status conference in the Del Mar case is slated for Oct. 25 in Frazier’s courtroom.

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