08/10/2011 3:05PM

Hall of Fame: Northern exposure at last


The Hall of Fame is located about 20 miles from Jerry Hollendorfer’s hometown. This would be eerie, and altogether appropriate, except for the fact that the Hall of Fame in question honors professional football players and coaches, and not a Thoroughbred trainer whose high school athletic career is a thing of the distant past.

But that’s okay. By the time the Pro Football Hall of Fame was rolling in Canton, Hollendorfer was long gone from the northern Ohio corridor that also includes Akron and ultimately Cleveland. He went West, fell in love with both a new world and a fine girl, and the rest is a history that will be celebrated on Friday in Saratoga Springs, when Hollendorfer headlines the inductions for the class of 2011 at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Hollendorfer’s classmates, elected by a group of 183 media members and historians, include the fabulous femmes Sky Beauty, Safely Kept, and Open Mind, who among them won 51 of 71 starts and four national championships. The fact that they were foaled in Kentucky, Maryland, and New Jersey only serves to spread the credit around.

Hollendorfer will be perfectly comfortable surrounded by such strong and accomplished females. In large part, it has been Hollendorfer’s work with fillies that has brought him from being known as a dominant regional power to a respected player on the national stage.

He took the locally known fillies Lite Light and Pike Place Dancer to Churchill Downs to win the Kentucky Oaks, back when the only California trainers to turn such a trick were named either Frankel, Lukas, or Barrera. More recently Hollendorfer campaigned the unflinching Hystericalady to win major races in the East and Midwest, and now he is in the driver’s seat with Blind Luck, a champion of 2010 who is still acting the part, with recent victories in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park and the Delaware Handicap on the other side of the continent.

Hollendorfer will insist – and he will do it in front of an audience on Friday at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion – that any accolades tossed his way must be shared with his wife, Janet. They met in the early 1970’s, when he worked for Jerry Fanning and she worked for Mel Stute.

“She’s the glue that holds our operation together,” Hollendorfer said. “I couldn’t do it without her.”

The idea of “without her” loomed large in the spring of 2009 when Janet underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. Since then she has had to curtail any traveling – she will not make it to the Hall of Fame ceremonies – but she continues to run the Hollendorfer barn at Golden Gate Fields while assistant Dan Ward holds the fort in Southern California. Jerry ranges back and forth each week, when he’s not taking a top horse east.

Before 1990, the vast majority of the 59 trainers in the Hall of Fame at the time were identified with racing in Kentucky and New York. There were only three with what could be called California portfolios – William Molter, Charlie Whittingham, and Lazaro Barrera – and look what those guys had to do to get there (Round Table, Ack Ack and Affirmed, for starters).

Since 1990 the scales have begun to balance, coinciding with the rise in importance of West Coast horse racing in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Joining that lonely California trio have been Ron McAnally, Mesh Tenney, Bobby Frankel, Neil Drysdale, Richard Mandella, Bob Baffert and, via the old-timers committee, Buster Millerick. Wayne Lukas also had a high California profile, but he was pretty much a national operation from the git-go.

The last time anyone checked, however, nobody was confusing the accomplishments of trainers in Southern California with their brethren in the north. California is a big place. In terms of square miles you can cram New York, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware in there and still have room for Hollendorfer’s Ohio. Those 350 or so miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco marked a world of difference in the level of racing and the notoriety gained for respective records.

Still, the horsemen of Southern California owe a lot to the north. Many of them came from there or at least passed through the Bay Area tracks on their way to national recognition. Morale is decidedly mixed these days among the racing people of the north, what with Bay Meadows razed and Golden Gate Fields announced for development by Stronach Racing. That is why Hollendorfer’s induction is such a shot in the arm to locals, and why his former boss Jerry Fanning applauds the Hall of Fame voters for recognizing achievements as a regional figure.

“I’m really happy for him,” Fanning said. “He really deserves it. You liked him automatically, and he did a good job for me as foreman, doing everything.”

Hollendorfer worked for the talented Fanning barn in the early 1970’s before heading to San Francisco.

“It doesn’t matter where you train,” said Fanning, who is known for such stars as Desert Wine, A Kiss for Luck, Little Reb, and Terlago. “If you’re doing good on your circuit you’re doing things right.

“And Jerry ended up owning a piece of just about every horse he’s got,” Fanning added. “Owners like that. They think you’re trying harder. You don’t, especially a guy like Jerry. He always put in the work no matter what. He was never afraid of the time.”

Now, thanks to the Hall of Fame and some very fast horses, Hollendorfer’s time has come.