07/15/2010 2:19PM

Hollendorfer takes it win at a time

Email

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – On Saturday, at the California State Fairgrounds in Sacramento, the Jerry Hollendorfer stable will be represented by the 4-year-old filly Broadway Hennessey in the $75,000 California State Fair Sprint Handicap on the main track, which is just as well, since there is only a main track.

Hollendorfer won’t be in the crowd. Alas, he will be forced to miss not only the Sprint Handicap, but the concert that warm summer evening by The Family Stone, these days minus the enigmatic Sly. The trainer gets a pass, though, since he will be otherwise occupied at Arlington Park in Chicago, where Tuscan Evening, the best turf mare in the West, takes her show on the road in the Modesty Handicap at 1 3/16 miles.

On the same afternoon, if that isn’t enough, Hollendorfer & Co. will have 3-year-old Skipshot running against the returning Sidney’s Candy in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. A son of the late Skip Away, Skipshot certainly deserves a look, even though he was no match for Sidney’s Candy in the Santa Anita Derby last April. In his last start, Skipshot was beaten just a half-length in the Affirmed at Hollywood, and the colt who beat him that day, Golden Itiz, is staying in the barn.

Back in Chicago, the competition for the Modesty is as thick as the Swaps is thin. Tuscan Evening will be facing Rainbow View, from the Jonathan Sheppard arsenal, as both the mare and the filly fine-tune their acts for the prestigious Beverly D. at Arlington in Aug. 21.

Californians are forgiven if they can’t remember the last time Tuscan Evening lost a race. For the record, it was Nov. 29, 2009, when she finished second to Ventura in the Matriarch at Hollywood Park, and no one held it against her.

Each of her five victories this year has required Tuscan Evening to lift her game. In distance, she went from 6 1/2 furlongs to a mile, 1 1/8 miles, and then 1 1/4 miles, passing every marker with style. In her last start, the May 29 Gamely at Hollywood Park, the Hollendorfer mare had her stiffest examination for class, when former champion Forever Together came to town. Carrying the red cross of Will de Burgh, Tuscan Evening beat her by a half-length.

“The Beverly D. is a race we’d like to win very much,” Hollendorfer said Wednesday from his Golden Gate headquarters. “I know we’re asking her to do something different, but a lot of the big races are back east later in the year, including the Breeders’ Cup. We always prefer to stay home, but sometimes we can’t. So this will be a test for her to see how she likes that course, and how she handles the trip.”

If Tuscan Evening is the reigning older monarch of the Hollendorfer stable, Blind Luck is the drama queen. Last Saturday, while the Hollendorfer runners were getting blanked back home at the Pleasanton fair, the 3-year-old filly took another step toward a national championship with one of her typical heart-stoppers in the $263,000 Delaware Oaks. Hollendorfer was watching from inside the Delaware Park grandstand, on a TV monitor.

“I honestly didn’t think she won,” he said. “I was pretty dejected right after the race, and I could hardly believe it when they put her number up. But when I saw the photo, it was a pretty good nose, and she got there.”

Just like she did against Evening Jewel in the Kentucky Oaks, and like she didn’t in both the Santa Anita and Hollywood Oaks this year. Hollendorfer longs for the days of the Fantasy Stakes, when Blind Luck won by a lopsided 2 1/2 lengths in a performance that, by her standards of measurement, roughly equates to Secretariat’s Belmont margin.

“You know, every time she’s run, even when she didn’t win she gave everything she has,” Hollendorfer said. “It’s rare to find a horse like that. But it would be a little more relaxing to win one by a couple.”

Hollendorfer has by now transcended the rap that he’s a Northern California trainer trading mostly in cheap stock and backwater stakes. Both Tuscan Evening and Blind Luck have compiled records that could lead to championships this season, even though it’s way too early to engrave any names. In the meantime, Hollendorfer and his staff, including Southern California top kick Dan Ward, are unfurling what projects as a personal best for the trainer in terms of purse money. Currently, only Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, and Bob Baffert lead Hollendorfer on the money table. Adding a couple of champions would be sweet gravy, but Hollendorfer, who has yet to train an Eclipse Award winner, is cautious.

“You take what comes your way, and if you end up with a champion you’re very grateful,” he said. “But you can’t plan it for sure. You have to have a very good horse, and then there’s a lot of luck involved.

“I just get a kick out of any race we can win,” Hollendorfer added. “You ought to be grateful when it happens. I was at Pleasanton last Sunday, the day after the Delaware Oaks, and ran into Kjell Qvale. Do you know he’s 91?”

Qvale, a native of Norway, was a pioneer of the West Coast auto industry and one of the godfathers of California racing and breeding. He owned the first Jaguar dealership in the West and ran Golden Gate Fields for 25 years. Last Sunday, Qvale’s horse, Restless Youth, beat Hollendorfer’s runner in the Sam J. Whiting Memorial.

“I told him he looked really good,” said Hollendorfer, a mere 64. “He said, ‘Yeah, I’m still alive!’ We can sure learn something from people who are grateful for everything.”