When you embarrass Thoroughbred racing on a national stage your career is toast. Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is the latest sacrificial lamb to have his throat slit by the authorities. Yes, the same powers that hope the federal government will bail out the industry and say they have no authority, seem to have moved the invisible hand regarding Hollendorfer.
Never before has any lobbyist ever uttered the words, we represent an industry that seeks government intervention. Yet the Thoroughbred industry, the one for which McKinsey and Co. cannot create good optics, desires a government bailout rather than man-up and assume the stewardship entrusted to it.
A CNN expose focused in part on Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, aired on June 22, before the 30th horse broke down at Santa Anita Park’s prestigious winter race meet. Later that day, The Stronach Group asked Hollendorfer, as his trainee American Currency was #30, to remove his horses from the grounds of its two racetracks in California, Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.
The New York Racing Association flip-flopped within a week, first stating on June 23, it was okay with the stalls allotted to Hollendorfer, then on June 29, stating without explanation that it was not okay. Expect the others major racetracks to fall in line soon. There is plenty of room at the bottom for Hollendorfer.
Dr. Dionne Benson, Chief Veterinary Officer for The Stronach Group, previously prevented trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from entering American Currency in a $12.5K starter allowance race after it was beaten 28 lengths at the $25k claiming level. However, TSG shares culpability in the death of American Currency as it allowed the horse to breeze following the scratch. American Currency suffered an injury in that workout which required euthanasia.
Hollendorfer claimed the gelding for $20,000 from O.J. Jauregui at Golden Gate April 27. Hollendorfer said he had planned to run the horse at Del Mar, where he registered two of his three career wins.
California Horse Racing Board Veterinary lists show Hollendorfer frequently employs a treatment on his horses known as Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT).
ESWT is a non-invasive treatment that uses high-energy soundwaves to stimulate healing by bringing extra blood flow to a specific area and it has a clinical analgesic effect that lasts for two to three days.
However, ESWT has no place at a racetrack. Typically, the treatment of horses requires three applications, two weeks apart, and requires 96 hours for withdrawal.
Any horse treated with ESWT should have a month off and should not be at a racetrack during that period. Instead of banning its use at racetracks, TSG chose to ban a trainer who uses the treatment. TSG is again culpable.
The CHRB requires that a horse treated with ESWT be placed on the Vet’s list for a minimum of ten days. ESWT is not therapeutic if rest does not follow it. In fact, if not used properly, it is anti-therapeutic.
A 2017 CHRB report states that it was necessary to reevaluate and reassess the CHRB ESWT policies after a fatal musculoskeletal injury suffered by a horse that had come off the Vet’s list for ESWT the day before it raced.
A review of racing and training fatalities at that time revealed that horses having a CHRB Vet’s list history of ESWT suffered nine of 62 fatalities. Yet to this day ESWT is permitted at racetracks in California. In fact, this is an industry-wide problem that urgently needs addressing.
Benson, hired away from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium by Stronach, is part of the problem, not the solution. As Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the RMTC, she said previously that RMTC polled vets to set standards for withdrawal times.
That is the kind of anecdotal evidence used to provoke science, to prove or disprove it. It is not the way to set thresholds nor withdrawal times. That kind of standard is what screwed up trainer Graham Motion and he ultimately lost his appeal on the issue.
Compounding this issue, Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, a trade group, is the new chairperson of RMTC, the industry’s “scientific” arm. Excuse me but doesn’t this qualify as a conflict of interest?—am I the first to call conflict of interest?
No charges have been leveled against Hollendorfer for improper use of ESWT. However, he is the only trainer that had more than two horses suffer a catastrophic injury at Santa Anita, doubling the next highest total. Two more Hollendorfer horses were euthanized at Golden Gate during this same period.
Jim Cassidy, president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, had little problem throwing Hollendorfer under the bus on the CNN broadcast. “Jerry, he’s tunnel vision,” said Cassidy. “He does what he wants to do and that’s it. If you don’t like it, too bad.”
High profile trainer Bob Baffert, defended Hollendorfer with a line from the trainers book on media-speak, “People don’t understand that Jerry felt really bad when he lost those horses…he does take really good care of his horses.”
Banning Hollendorfer under the banner of doing the right thing to preserve the integrity of racing actually damaged the integrity of racing. Hollendorfer still holds a valid trainers license. There is no transparency here, further justification would have made TSG ban more feasible.
This is the time of year we should be looking forward to the best racing in America, at prestigious race meets in Saratoga and Del Mar. Instead, we step into these boutiques—with trepidation, hoping horses do not die doing what they were bred to do.
©Mark Berner, HorseRaceInsider.com, All Rights Reserved, 2019