01/24/2008 1:00AM

No. 4 all-time still going strong


ARCADIA, Calif. - Dan Ward reached into a crowded corner of his tack room office at Santa Anita and pulled out a pasteboard sign with black lettering on white that read, without frills, "Jerry Hollendorfer 5,000 wins."

Why this particular sign was not on display in Northern California was cause for brief confusion. After all, Hollendorfer practically owns the past 20 years of training history at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, and the overwhelming number of those 5,000 winners were nailed down within shouting distance of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

In a twist of timing, however, Hollendorfer's remarkable milestone was reached on the final day of the winter Hollywood Park meet, Dec. 22, when the local division of the stable won a pair of races. Hollendorfer was at home, not far from Golden Gate, while assistant Ward did the honors, and took at least temporary possession of the sign.

"That was fun," said Ward, who has been working for Hollendorfer since last September. "Jerry had been down here just before that, but had to go back. We only had those two in on closing day and needed them both to hit 5,000. I told him we'd just have to get it done."

Hollendorfer's 5,000 wins and counting ranks fourth on the all-time list. Both Jack Van Berg and King Leatherbury are well past the 6,000 mark, while Dale Baird had won 9,445 races at the time of his death in a highway accident on the night of Dec. 23. Baird's legacy was very much on Hollendorfer's mind when he reflected last weekend on their respective records.

"I don't care where you do it, winning all those races is an incredible achievement," Hollendorfer, 58, said of Baird, who rarely ventured outside West Virginia. "I can't imagine pulling the cinch on that many girths."

Just as Baird was a huge fish in a small pond, Hollendorfer has spent his career dealing with the rap that he does not really pertain outside of Northern California. In terms of sheer numbers, that may be so. But Hollendorfer is that rare regional giant who has made a national impact, going back as far as 1989 when he shipped Hollywood Futurity winner King Glorious across country to win the Haskell Invitational.

In 1991, Hollendorfer should have made headlines by winning the Kentucky Oaks with Lite Light. His name was buried, though, beneath the avalanche of attention rained down upon Lite Light's owner, hip-hop star M.C. Hammer. Five years later, Hollendorfer won the Kentucky Oaks again with Pike Place Dancer, and this time notice was paid. Among trainers in the previous half century, only Woody Stephens, Ben Jones, and D. Wayne Lukas had won the Oaks more than twice.

In 2007, Hollendorfer came within a neck of training his first champion, when Hystericalady lost the Breeders' Cup Distaff by that margin to Ginger Punch. To that point, Hystericalady had done enough to merit serious consideration - winning such races as the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs and the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park - and the Breeders' Cup win likely would have put her over the top.

Now 5, Hystericalady is scheduled to make her 2008 debut on Sunday in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita, against defending champ Pussycat Doll. Hollendorfer also is set to be represented at Santa Anita on Saturday in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf by Somethinaboutlaura, a hard-knocking 6-year-old mare who will be going for the 19th victory of her career.

That is, if the weather cooperates. Because of the condition of the synthetic surface after Thursday morning's hailstorm, both the Saturday and Sunday cards at Santa Anita were very much up in the air. The news did not seem to faze either of the Hollendorfer mares, though, as they relaxed in neighboring stalls Thursday morning under Ward's shed row, snug beneath warm blankets. It's a long year.

Hollendorfer gives Ward considerable credit for elevating the profile of his Southern California division. In the past, the Hollendorfer horses running in the south usually were housed temporarily with fellow trainer John Sadler.

"He's a top man," Hollendorfer said of Ward, "and this tells people that we're committed to being a presence in Southern California."

In his first time around at the racetrack, Ward worked for Bobby Frankel for 22 years, first as a groom and then later as assistant trainer. In 1999 Ward walked away from the track and spent eight years managing a popular restaurant in the Los Angeles suburb of El Segundo. But then, last summer, he found himself lured back.

"I was actually going to work for a restaurant near Del Mar, but it burned down before it opened," Ward said. "The more I hung around Del Mar, the more I realized how much I missed it."

After a two-month stint with trainer Peter Miller, Ward accepted the offer from Hollendorfer to set up a full-time stable on the Southern California circuit. With three wins during the Oak Tree meet, 11 wins at Hollywood Park, and four so far at Santa Anita, the operation is beginning to roll.

"It's a great job," Ward said. "We're claiming all the time - plenty of action, and Jerry gives me a lot of responsibility. I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoyed the business."

Next stop, 6,000.