02/12/2013 4:47PM

Santa Anita: Hollendorfer barn back to winning ways, sends Curvy Cat in Thursday feature

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Curvy Cat will be trying turf for the first time while facing established grass specialists.

ARCADIA, Calif. – One year ago at Santa Anita, horses trained by Jerry Hollendorfer had a tough time finding the winner’s circle. This year, the winner’s circle is practically a second home.

Hollendorfer won only 7 races from 71 starters last winter at Santa Anita as he and assistant Dan Ward toiled through a forgettable season.

The stable returned to top form this winter at Santa Anita, where Hollendorfer already has won 13 races from 56 starters, a total that may increase Thursday when Curvy Cat starts in race 7, a turf sprint for second-level allowance fillies and mares.

“We are doing better than we did last year,” Hollendorfer admitted.

“We always try to remain consistent and do better. So far this year at Santa Anita, we are doing better.”

Hollendorfer, 66, talked about the ups and downs in a conversation last weekend in his stable office at Betfair Hollywood Park. The Hall of Fame trainer splits his time between Northern and Southern California. Ward oversees the daily operation at Hollywood.

The decision to keep the winter stable at Hollywood, rather than train at Santa Anita, goes against normal routine. But after the sleepy winter of 2012, Hollendorfer figured something had to change.

“I’ve always liked to stable at the live meet, but it’s hard to deny that we’ve been doing better since we’ve been training over here,” Hollendorfer said.

Is the Hollywood Park location the reason for the turnaround?

“I don’t think you can prove that, but we feel that we train better over here and we do a better job from over here,” Hollendorfer said.

He also trains better horses, even if a change in location does not preclude setbacks. Grade 1-placed Nonios and Fury Kapcori were expected to lead the charge in 2013. They are injured and sidelined.

Setbacks aside, the Hollendorfer momentum is likely to continue.

Snow Fall could be favored Saturday over stablemate Lady of Fifty in the Grade 2 Santa Maria for fillies and mares. Sahara Sky aims for his second stakes Feb. 23 in the Grade 2 San Carlos. Scarlet Strike runs March 2 in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes for 3-year-old fillies.

Hollendorfer also has two Santa Anita Derby candidates. The lightly raced and well-regarded Hear the Ghost runs March 9 in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes; Zeewat runs Saturday in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

“If he could win up there, he might look to run in Southern California,” Hollendorfer said, referring to the Santa Anita Derby on April 6. Zeewat overcame trouble last out to win the California Derby.

Curvy Cat is the immediate focus. Hollendorfer entered her in the $75,000 Wishing Well Stakes on Sunday, but scratched that morning. The second-level allowance Thursday was a better option.

“She’s eligible for the condition,” Hollendorfer said early Sunday, adding that the Wishing Well “looks like a rip-roaring tough race to me. So we would like to try the ‘supposedly’ easier spot on Thursday. She’s another one that’s making pretty good progress.”

Curvy Cat has come far already. Owned and bred by Tommy Town Thoroughbreds, she began her career in an $8,000 maiden claimer at Golden Gate, won first out and climbed the ladder thereafter, wining 5 of 12 and finishing in the money every start. In her most recent start, Curvy Cat finished third behind Snow Fall.

Joe Talamo rides Curvy Cat, who will try turf for the first time while facing established grass specialists. Minds Eyes won a first-level allowance on the downhill two starts back. Best Present Ever sprinted three times on turf at Santa Anita, a win and two seconds.

Other starters Thursday include front-runners Magical Band and Sizzling Gold, Plaza de Indias, and June Cleaver.

Hollendorfer ranked 26th in the Santa Anita trainer standings a year ago, but enters Thursday ranked third behind Bob Baffert and John Sadler. Hollendorfer’s 27 percent win rate has produced a $2.77 return for each $2 win bet.