09/21/2008 11:00PM

Now his horses can win anywhere

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The desire was always there, but Jerry Hollendorfer never wanted his reach to exceed his grasp. Hollendorfer admits, and his closest friends confirm, that he is deeply competitive. He longed to race on a national stage, and when he had the stock, he struck, witness his two victories in the Kentucky Oaks.

Yet for the better part of two decades, despite those wins - with Lite Light in 1991 and Pike Place Dancer in 1996 - and racking up nearly 5,200 other victories to rank fourth all-time among trainers, Hollendorfer was typecast as the giant fish in the small pond of Northern California's Bay Area. Yes, he would win training titles by the fistful at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate, but when he tried his luck in Southern California, he would race infrequently and not very successfully.

"I remember people saying he couldn't win down here," said Jim Pegram, a Southern California-based jockey agent who has been friendly with Hollendorfer for 25 years. "I said, 'Just wait.' He just needed the stock."

He's got it now. Hollendorfer, 59, in the past two years has shifted a significant portion of his stable to Southern California. Of the 130 horses he has in training, 35 are in Southern California. Hollendorfer is steadily moving up the ladder. At Del Mar, he finished fifth in the standings. And earlier this year, Hollendorfer won Southern California's premier race, the Santa Anita Handicap, with Heatseeker. Hollendorfer is seventh in the national standings among trainers with earnings of nearly $6.8 million, and seems certain to surpass his personal, single-season record of $7.3 million, set last year.

"I was lucky and blessed that Will gave me that horse," Hollendorfer said of Will de Burgh, who owned Heatseeker. "Everybody would love to run in Southern California, but you have to be realistic. I never thought I had the stock to compete consistently on a daily basis. But I've had more support from my owners."

More money means better horses, and better horses can win better races. In addition to the Santa Anita Handicap, Heatseeker captured Hollywood Park's Californian Stakes before having to be retired this summer; he will stand at stud at John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farm next spring.

Hollendorfer also has sent the top mare Hystericalady all across the country to plunder major stakes. She has won the last two runnings of the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth, took the Humama Distaff last year at Churchill Downs, and lost a heartbreaker in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff to Ginger Punch. Hystericalady will try to avenge that loss in this year's Distaff - now known as the Ladies' Classic - on Oct. 24 at Santa Anita, and she will prep for the Ladies' Classic this Saturday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, in the Grade 1, $250,000 Lady's Secret Stakes.

The Ladies' Classic is likely to be her final race. Hystericalady is entered in the November breeding stock sale at Keeneland.

"We did our best getting her to the race, she did her best in the race, but Ginger Punch did her best, and we got beat by a really great filly," Hollendorfer said of last year's Distaff.

"I think we've done well in Southern California, but I'd like to do better, as everyone would. I'm getting up there in years, but I'm still a competitive person."

From 1986 until earlier this year, Hollendorfer won every meet at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate. That's right. Every. Single. Meet. For 22 years. "There's no quit in the guy," Pegram said. "He's as hard a working guy as you'll ever be around. He just keeps charging. The only one who works harder than him is his wife."

Hollendorfer's wife, Janet, remains in Northern California, where Hollendorfer has horses at both Bay Meadows - which closes for training on Oct. 8 - and Golden Gate. They have no children. The track is their life. In Southern California, Hollendorfer's rise has coincided with his hiring of Dan Ward, a former assistant with Bobby Frankel.

"Dan's a big asset, as is everyone I've got with me," Hollendorfer said.

Hollendorfer got his first exposure nationally in the late 1980s with King Glorious, who won the Hollywood Futurity in 1988, then the next year captured both the Haskell at Monmouth and the Ohio Derby at Thistledown. Ted Aroney, whose Halo Farms owned King Glorious, has been a steady client of Hollendorfer's in all the years since, and currently has Babs Moossa, who won a pair of stakes for California-breds at Del Mar and is now being pointed to the California Cup Juvenile on Oct. 5 at Santa Anita.

Hollendorfer's other prominent runners at Oak Tree include the 2-year-old fillies Broadway Hennessey and Montana Fields. Both are under consideration for the Grade 1, $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes on Saturday and then, perhaps, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on Oct. 24.

Pegram is hopeful that Hollendorfer can shine again on a national stage in the Breeders' Cup and provide fresh incentive for a renewed look at Hollendorfer's body of work. A Breeders' Cup win and perhaps a national championship could be a wake-up call to get Hollendorfer on the final ballot for the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame.

"I still can't believe he's not in the Hall of Fame," Pegram said. "If this guy doesn't belong, I don't know who does."