04/15/2004 12:00AM

Hollendorfer becomes 6th to reach 4,000 wins

Vassar Photo
Gonetorule, Jerry Hollendorfer up, wins the 6th race at Bay Meadows on Thursday. The win was the 4,000th in Hollendorfer's career.

SAN MATEO, Calif. - Jerry Hollendorfer became the sixth trainer in Thoroughbred racing history to win 4,000 races when Gonetorule scored a $17.80 upset in the sixth race at Bay Meadows on Thursday. Hollendorfer had won No. 3,999 one race earlier with Soccer Dan.

"I don't know if I'll reach 5,000, but I'll try," Hollendorfer said after being presented with a flat-screen television by Bay Meadows for his achievement.

Hollendorfer, 54, has long been the dominant trainer in northern California, having won 24 straight training titles at Golden Gate Fields and 27 straight at Bay Meadows. He also won the 2001 title at Arlington Park, and the 1992 Randall meeting title at Thistledown.

Hollendorfer has won at least 200 races a year since 1997, and for his career has finished first, second, or third with 54 percent of his starters.

But Hollendorfer is as much about quality as quantity.

In 1988-89, he campaigned King Glorious, who won eight of nine starts, including the $1 million Hollywood Futurity, the Ohio Derby, and the Haskell Invitational. He trained Lite Light to win the Fantasy Stakes, Kentucky Oaks, and Coaching Club American Oaks in 1991.

Other top horses trained by Hollendorfer include Pike Place Dancer and Event of the Year. Pike Place Dancer defeated males in the 1996 California Derby, then won the Kentucky Oaks. Event of the Year won the 1998 El Camino Real Derby and Jim Beam Stakes and was among the favorites for the Kentucky Derby before being sidelined with a knee injury.

"He needs one really big horse to go right to the Hall of Fame," said Jerry Fanning, one of his early mentors.

Hollendorfer is not a typical trainer. A marketing major at the University of Akron in his hometown, he had no background with horses.

"I was out in California and always going to the races," he said. "I got to the backside and became a hotwalker for Dan Wilcher [in 1969]. Some people would say it was fate."

Hollendorfer gained hands-on experience working as a groom with Jerry Dutton. Hollendorfer took out his trainer's license in 1979 but was far from an overnight success, winning only 59 races in his first six years.

"He acted like a person who wanted to work, and he did," Dutton said. "He learned very fast. He picked it right up and just kept at it."

"He's a workaholic," Fanning said. "He wanted to learn, and he had a good eye for a horse and a good temperament with horses. He's a good horseman. He knows what a horse is worth."

Dr. George Todaro, one of Hollendorfer's main clients, said he values the trainer's honesty. "Ask him about any horse at any time, and he can tell you about him, and he'll tell you straight," Todaro said. "You always know he's being straight with you. He's not spinning something to make it sound better."

Hollendorfer has overcome both personal and health problems.

Early in his career Hollendorfer recognized that he had a drinking problem, and he has abstained since. When he faced later health problems, he met them head on, changing his diet and routine, running five miles a day on a treadmill, and doing 2,000 squats when he arises at 3 in the morning.

He and his wife, Janet, his chief assistant at the barn, put their money as well as their lives into horses, owning many in partnership with clients.

"We're working harder than we ever have," Hollendorfer said. "It becomes all-encompassing, really. I like the competition, and I like winning."