08/21/2008 11:00PM

Hollendorfer chasing next star

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Jerry Hollendorfer is a self-described workaholic, with stables running at full throttle in both northern and Southern California. In a training career dating back to 1979, he has won more than 5,000 races, and the end seems nowhere in sight.

Still, for all the satisfaction that comes with winning all those races, Hollendorfer gets itchy this time of year for a much different kind of action. He can't wait to sink his teeth into that knee-high stack of catalogs and head for Lexington, where he will join the most prolific shoppers in the business at the Keeneland September yearling sales.

"I love it," Hollendorfer said recently at Del Mar. "It's the best place for me to get horses. Of course, when I first started going, I didn't have that much to spend. I tried to buy what I could buy and do what I could do, while learning all the time."

Let the record show that Hollendorfer has pretty much figured it out. Here is sample of the Keeneland September home runs he has hit on a relatively modest budget:

* Tuxedo Junction (purchased for $42,000) was a daughter of Black Tie Affair who had a career of 29 starts, during which she finished third in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap, a close second in the Delaware Handicap, and won three minor stakes and $439,231. In 1999, she was sold as a broodmare prospect for $400,000.

* Pike Place Dancer ($40,000) was purchased at the same 1993 sale as Tuxedo Junction. The daughter of Seattle Dancer won 6 of 8 starts and $578,682, while giving Hollendorfer the second of his two victories in the Kentucky Oaks. Pike Place Dancer also beat the boys in the California Derby and made headlines again when she went for $1,650,000 at the 1999 Keeneland January mixed sale.

* Globalize ($80,000), by Summer Squall, was the best 3-year-old to come out of northern California in spring 2000 when he won the Grade 2 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. Globalize went on to finish second to eventual Travers winner Unshaded in the Lexington Stakes, but had to be scratched from the Kentucky Derby after being kicked by his own pony two days before the race. He won $623,650.

* Bwana Bull ($140,000), a son of Holy Bull, acted like a legitimate Kentucky Derby colt in early 2007, with victories in both the California Derby and the El Camino Real Derby. Kentucky didn't work out - Bwana Bull finished 15th of 20 - but he came back to earn nice checks, finishing second to the Steve Asmussen hotshot Zanjero in the West Virginia and Indiana derbies, earning $526,382 along the way.

At a purchase price of $125,000, Hollendorfer's greatest hit has to be Hystericalady, the daughter of Distorted Humor who came within a neck of winning a national championship when narrowly second in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Monmouth Park. Prior to that race, Hystericalady won the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks, the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, and the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher. Since the Breeders' Cup, she has taken the Grade 3 Azeri Handicap at Oaklawn, the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs, and the Grade 2 Delaware Park Handicap. Her earnings have topped $2.1 million.

"I was looking for a Distorted Humor, and Nancy and I both loved her," Hollendorfer said. "Actually, she's been the soundest horse I've ever trained. She did bruise her feet on that sloppy track in the Breeders' Cup. But I did put stickers on her for that race, and I probably shouldn't have done it."

"Nancy" is Nancy Nuckolls of Spokane, Wash., one of Hollendorfer's inner-circle sales team at his side through the marathon September sessions.

"Nancy helps me with conformation," Hollendorfer said. "I've got Dr. [Dennis] Meagher, who was resident veterinarian at UC-Davis for many years, to read all my X-rays. And then, when I'm not sure on something about a horse, I have a couple of people there at the sale I can ask their opinion."

Hollendorfer has people. That should come as no surprise. Each year, when September rolls around, he descends upon Keeneland with a few more sparkling credits in his resume and a little more capital to invest. This season, in addition to the ongoing excellence of Hystericalady, he added a Santa Anita Handicap victory by Heatseeker to his list of accomplishments.

Of course, that's all window dressing when the yearlings enter the sales ring and the bidding begins. At that point, it's all about money and nerves.

"You have to rely a lot on your gut feeling," Hollendorfer said. "Sometimes you have to say, 'I've got to go another time,' even though you didn't want to pay that much. That's what makes it so competitive. I've been caught up in some bidding. But you have to know when to quit, too."

As with all trainers who patronize a major sale like Keeneland September, Hollendorfer knows what he's after.

"Everybody's looking for fast horses," he said. "I like to find horses that will eventually stretch out. If I think they might not be real fast as 2-year-olds, I would sacrifice that if I thought they could be a better 3-year-old.

"I wouldn't say I'm looking for bargains," Hollendorfer went on. "But I am looking for value. I don't mind paying the money, but I want a lot of backup on the page, and I want an individual I really like. My thinking is this - if you pick a horse that's worth a certain amount, and there's something you don't like, you have to get a discounted price. Or, you end up paying the price, and say, 'I'll live with that.'

"For example, I bought a Dynaformer filly last year," he said. "She was just a little bit back at the knee. That's been a problem in her 2-year-old year, but I was willing to sacrifice that to get the Dynaformer breeding. I didn't have one, and they're really good horses.

"Then sometimes you get lucky and a horse comes through like Montana Fields," he added, referring to a 2-year-old daughter of Pulpit who won a smart maiden race at Del Mar on Aug. 3. "Nobody liked her for whatever reason, but I did, and got her for $67,000."

Hollendorfer clearly revels in the chase for a good auction yearling, and he admires the horsemen who have set the standards.

"I'm very intrigued by the way a lot of people buy," he said. "Nobody's bought more stakes winners than Wayne Lukas. A guy like Bruce Headley, he just will not buy a horse unless it perfectly meets his standards - has to have a lot of bone, a big shoulder, all the correct things. I think that's why he does so well. And it's fascinating to watch a guy like Bob Baffert buy Real Quiet for a very small price, when he has people who can spend so much. Obviously, others weren't interested. It was his horsemanship that said, 'I don't care what everybody else doesn't like. I want him.' And it actually takes a lot of courage to pull the trigger on a $19,000 horse. You've got to figure something's amiss."

Hollendorfer retains 25 percent or 50 percent interest in the yearlings he buys, much as fellow Californian Headley partners with a select group of regular patrons.

"I'll try to be as active as I can this year," Hollendorfer noted. "I haven't gathered up all the money I need yet. I do think this is a great year to make a case for buying there. I don't think the prices are going to be bargain prices, but I think you're going to be able to buy a little more pedigree for a little less money.

"I'd love to be able to buy some of the higher-priced yearlings at some point in my career," he went on. "The most I've ever paid is the $400,000 I gave last year for a Distorted Humor filly, and we've taken a lot of time with her.

"A lot of them work out, but a lot of them don't," Hollendorfer conceded. "It's not easy, just because you spend some money for a horse. Anything you do there involves risk, and the greater the risk, the greater the potential for reward, or disappointment.

"In fact," he added, "buying yearlings is the riskiest thing you can do in this business, because you can't see everything. But that also means the more reward you can get, and I've been rewarded with horses like Pike Place Dancer and Hystericalady.

"You could call buying yearlings an art form," Hollendorfer concluded. "But it's an art form with a lot of luck involved."