11/03/2010 10:54AM

Usually low-key, Hollendorfer finds himself in spotlight

Tom Keyser
Jerry Hollendorfer, the fourth-winningest trainer of all time, sends out Blind Luck, Wooden Phone, and Indian Gracey in the Breeders' Cup.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It was 7 in the morning here at Churchill Downs on Wednesday when trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s phone rang, with Hollywood Park-based assistant Dan Ward on the line. Not 30 seconds later, the phone rang again, with his wife, Janet, based at Golden Gate Fields, checking in with updates on the horses Hollendorfer has there. It’s true. You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Hollendorfer.

“I get up at 3 every day,” he said.

Hollendorfer, 64, approaches his craft with uncommon focus. He and his wife have no children. They work long hours, overseeing horses in both Northern and Southern California, before calling it a day around 8 or 9 at night. Save for watching the playoffs of major sports, and rooting for Ohio State – Hollendorfer was born in Akron – it’s all racing, all the time. That singular drive has made Hollendorfer the fourth-winningest trainer of all-time, with 5,781 victories, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Oaks, and about the most prominent name on the list of deserving trainers still not in the Hall of Fame.

“I’m grateful that some people think I should be in,” he said. “It’s not like me to go around waving my own flag. I like to stay low-key and under the radar.”

This year, though, Hollendorfer has been in the headlines, both for happy and tragic reasons, and that skill set of marching forward with blinkers on has served him well. He is fourth among trainers this year in the national standings in purse earnings with more than $7.2 million, won the Kentucky Oaks and his first Alabama Stakes with Blind Luck, and despite the scratch of Indian Gracey still has two horses in the Breeders’ Cup – Blind Luck in the Ladies’ Classic on Friday, and Dakota Phone in the Dirt Mile on Saturday.

Yet Hollendorfer had his top turf mare, Tuscan Evening – a Grade 1 winner who had won all six of her starts this year – drop dead at Del Mar following a workout this summer, and his close friend Galen May was killed in late August.

“My approach to life is to try to stay positive about things,” Hollendorfer said. “There’s a lot that can go wrong, especially in the horse business. In my personal life, I try to pay due respect when something has happened, then move on and think positive.”

May frequently traveled with Hollendorfer’s horses when they went out of town for major races. He undoubtedly would have been here for the Breeders’ Cup.

“Galen wasn’t just a person who worked for me,” Hollendorfer said. “He was a friend first. He just wanted to go on the road with the better horses.”

Nothing hit quite as close in Hollendorfer’s life as the serious illness suffered by his wife last year. Janet was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but has recovered and is back at work. She is as focused as her husband when it comes to racing.

This year could be the best year ever for Hollendorfer in terms of racing success. A longtime kingpin in Northern California, where he won training titles at Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows for a mind-boggling 22 straight years from 1986-2008, his national prominence has risen in recent years, since he began to devote considerable time to establishing a serious beachhead in Southern California. That, in turn, has brought better stock. Hollendorfer this year has won 22 stakes, 14 graded.

He has never won a Breeders’ Cup race, though he did just miss in the 2007 Distaff, when Hystericalady finished second by a neck to Ginger Punch.

Win or lose, though, Hollendorfer doesn’t dwell on a result for too long. He’ll allow himself a brief smile after a major win, or snap at a jockey who didn’t follow instructions, but just as quickly he’s moving on, thinking ahead.

“Most trainers always want to do more, accomplish more,” Hollendorfer said. “I’m the kind of guy that when today’s over, I’m looking forward. I guess they call it not resting on your laurels.”