06/02/2002 11:00PM

Hollendorfer has horses, will travel

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Wrong. If Jerry Hollendorfer subscribed to that homespun philosophy, he wouldn't have 50 horses in Chicago right now, ready to attack the Arlington meet, which starts Wednesday. He wouldn't have been the leading trainer here last summer, and his operation could have begun stagnating, locked into the outpost of northern California, where summer racing means fair circuits and a lack of opportunities for turf horses.

It would have been easy for Hollendorfer to sit chilly. He has dominated northern California racing for almost two decades. You have to pry the stats out of him - he has learned politics well, and overt self-promotion is off limits - but Hollendorfer knows them. In 17 years, he has been leading trainer at every major northern California meet.

It wasn't enough. With about 150 horses at his disposal, Hollendorfer was too big for the northern California summer circuit. There was Del Mar, but that was a significant ship for him, and the competition there is intense. Hello, Arlington.

The decision to move a significant portion of his operation halfway across the country made business sense. But Hollendorfer said there was more to it.

"Last year, when I came out there, I was looking for a challenge," he said. "A person can say, well, you're good, because you've won all these races. Well, how good are you? You have to show that you're willing to take a risk."

Arlington management rolled out the red carpet for Hollendorfer last year. Here was a name trainer with a ton of horses that were ready to race. His move would attract positive national attention, and it would help the track fill its races.

Some local horsemen were less enthusiastic. Hollendorfer wins, so their slice of the pie was going to get smaller. There was grumbling that Hollendorfer moved right into a prime Arlington barn and was given as many stalls as he needed, while some locals felt they were squeezed on space.

"I think the track aims to please all the horsemen on an equal basis," said Arlington racing secretary Dave Bailey.

Said Hollendorfer, "For the most part, my stable was treated at the top level" by other horsemen. "If someone comes in and wins a lot of races, there's always going to be some resentment."

But even Hollendorfer's fiercest rival here, trainer Wayne Catalano, could see the merits of Hollendorfer's presence at Arlington.

"He's bringing 50-some horses," Catalano said. "What do you need to run a meet? New, fresh horses, that's what you need. What is he? He's a competitor; he's going to run. He's a good man, a good trainer, and he's got good people behind him."

Whatever the climate when he arrived here, Hollendorfer picked up in Chicago where he left off in California: He ran often, and he won often. Hollendorfer started 214 horses last meet, second-most among trainers, and with 41 wins, he edged Catalano for the title after a long struggle.

Hollendorfer will have about 50 horses here again this year. Many are owned or co-owned by Peter Abruzzo, a Chicagoan with whom Hollendorfer said he has "developed a friendship and a partnership. I feel an allegiance to him."

The bulk of Hollendorfer's stock arrived late last week, most of it by plane from California. The long-distance, multifaceted relocation would overwhelm many horsemen.

"The difficulty is how you look at it," Hollendorfer said. "The logistics are there, but you have to overcome the fear. It was actually pretty easy to put them on the plane - other than the expense. The downside is if you choose wrong and bring the wrong horses. There's nothing you can do about it. You're a long way from home."

Hollendorfer's shipping costs will run to about $80,000, but it shouldn't take long to make that back. Through last weekend, his starters this year, 437 of them, had earned more than $2.4 million.

Like last year, Hollendorfer will spend the summer shuttling between Chicago, California, and anywhere else he has business to do. He gets to the barn early, and late in the afternoon a phone interview gets interrupted by a stream of incoming calls, a fax machine, a brief conversation with a vet. Patiently, methodically, Hollendorfer handles each task. With an operation this size, and a hands-on approach, the work rarely ends.

"I like to think we have a well-organized and timesaving way of doing things," Hollendorfer said. "But it does take up most of my waking hours. Sometimes, it wears on your nerves a little bit. But I'm a pretty compulsive and driven type of person. I might as well put it to good use."