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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


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,, All Rights Reserved, 2019

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Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

33 Responses

  1. Marko, thanks for another in a series of educational pieces on equine safety–or lack thereof.

    Could not believe some of the recent quotes that were attributed to Los Alamitos vice president Jack Liebau… that it’s not up to the racetrack to “second guess” trainers? That Los Al is not requiring permission slips to work horses because he’s “not too sure the system works?”

    This after 30 horse deaths at Santa Anita, compelling TSG–a group under siege from every direction– to enact new safety protocols that happened to reduce racing fatalities by 58% since mid-March and by about 80% during training hours?

    Not up to the California racetrack that immediately follows arguably the most catastrophic event in racing history?

    It’s this kind of slavish devotion to fill races that is a huge source of the equine safety issue. Thanks very much, Mr. Me-Give-Mine…

  2. John-
    No one at Los Al seems happy with the new regulations, but the CHRB committee of five will monitor and act when necessary.
    Second guessing the trainers at Santa Anita has reduced fatalities, but it’s not up to the Los Al to second guess trainers, eh? The same goes for vets capitulating with trainers on medication requests, but that’s a story for another day. Who’s running this game anyway?

  3. Will you allow several answers to that query? First, we know it’s not the horse player. And so I must say, in order; breeders, owners, trainers and racetracks. And if we are to take Liebau at his word, I’d have to say that the horses are trailing badly…

  4. You can have all the answers you like. I’m glad I speak for the horses. Without them there would be no racing. Ever have the urge to bet on a breeder? Bet they can’t run an eighth in ten minutes.

  5. ESWT is used extensively by a number of high profile trainers. Why not mention that frequent users Jim Cassidy, Baffert, D’mato, Sadler, Miller, etc. also use ESTW. Why single out Hollendorfer and question his use in this story?

    1. I am wondering the same thing? Is Hollendorter the scapegoat? Appears to me he just might be. Let’s ban him. A hall of fame trainer. And fix all these issues later. Why wouldn’t all trainers be named

  6. JCoach-
    Hollendorfer was singled out by CNN, TSG and NYRA. I explained why because they didn’t. Yes, many others use it, too. I’ve seen the Vet’s list. I’d have more names than words in this story if I were to list all that use ESWT in all racing jurisdictions. It’s an industry-wide problem that needs to be addressed and not swept under the rug,

  7. Mark, I know some handicappers who couldn’t run a sixteenth in 10 seconds…

    On a serious note, very happy that Del Mar stepped up by employing a five-member entry-review panel, new medical reforms based on International Federation Horseracing Association guidelines, increased random out-of-competition testing, enhanced stable security, additional veterinary protocols for morning workouts that includes a ban on whip use.

    However, Del Mar did stop short of addressing the largest elephant in the room: raceday medication.

    1. John-
      I believe the five-member committee is from the CHRB and Del Mar has no choice. Other measures taken are good, but do not go far enough.

  8. American Currency was scratched as coughing, a Vet Scratch as sick requiring 72 hours before a workout. The required workout slip was filled out Thursday 6/21 for a work 6 days after the scratch and was approved. The horse was never shockwaved during his time in the Hollendorfer barn at Santa Anita. Check the records, and your facts.

  9. Dan-
    I said the horse was approved to work and I never said it was shocked during that time period.

  10. Mark, It would appear that majority of thoroughbred trainers are running their barns this way, and that most vets appear equally complicit in the destruction of the sport. It is after all is said an done, simply a contest about making the most money to be had today. The horses be damned. As annoyed as Peta activists are towards their perceived view of abuse of the thoroughbred, I am equally annoyed at the “look the other way” inaction of those who know better. All participants have a voice in governance of racing save the equine participants who give it their all. Thanks for adding your voice for their protection.

    This Saturday’s Belmont Stars and Stripes card features five Grade 1 races. In days of old, Grade 1 participants would be perceived by most as being fit enough to run race day medication free. What percentage of Saturday’s featured runners will be Lasix free? Of those Lasix added, how many are running on Lasix simply for the reason that “all the others are running” on it?

    P.S. Really enjoying 2.0! Nice job to all involved. Hopefully down the road we’ll be treated to a few “Photos by Toni”.

  11. McD-
    Thanks for all the compliments. I think more photos by Toni are coming.
    I ‘m proud to speak for the horses, So few do. I’m equally annoyed at a lot of the practices in the industry and hold feet to the fire whenever necessary. I’m critical when I see something wrong and pat people on the back when they do an especially good job. My job is to add perspective.
    I do remember the days of Lasix-free racing and the days the Grade 1 stakes used to be run.

  12. Unless there is more to the Dorf situation that is not out there this all hard to comprehend. There are numerous people on this circuit that have legitimate things to hide in their vet work on horses. Go into other circuits the list would get long fast.. The sad part is the fiascos with Pender and Morey likely partially led to Dorfs problems with TSG as they needed a fall guy.

    1. The found a fall guy with a little help from CNN and it’s unfortunate for Hollendorfer that he had a horse breakdown that day. Wrong place, wrong time.

  13. 58% less since measures were put in place was not because of the measures, it was because that was when the rain stopped and the track got back to some degree of normal. But TSG wants to make it sound like their measures were the reason.

    1. There’s some wiggle room for the truth in your statement regarding the 58%. Yes, the weather turned, but also they cut back on meds, added new safety measures and more scrutiny, all of which is good. Exactly what percentage is weather related, new protocols and just pure luck, or lack of bad luck, is hard to determine.

  14. MB,
    The more you expand my horizons, the more I realize how little I know about racing, and worse, how little there is to like about what I do know.

    Is Hollendorfer’s role as an owner a factor in this situation?

    I was looking forward to playing on the days of the Suburban, Whitney, Travers, and Woodward, but I will not until NYRA explains its ban on Hollendorfer in detail and why they haven’t announced any similar action(s) against any other trainer. I will similarly avoid playing Del Mar without sufficient transparency going forward.

    The bet takers that continue to swindle casual bettors through rebates and last-minute access to the betting pools are no less a threat to the game than the horsemen who abuse racehorses with drugs and lack of rest, or the various state racing commissions that refuse to regulate racing uniformly, transparently, and with unassailable integrity.

    Reform will require enough recreational bettors to understand the game of the ’70s no longer exists, and stop supporting racing in its current structure with their bankrolls.

    P.S. Will emails notifying previous commenters of new comments in a thread continue in HRI 2.0?

    1. I-
      There is no intention to chase away players, but I feel obligated to the horses and to let the public know what is going on. We will never get back to the ’70’s in life, society nor racing. I don’t see how Hollendorfer’s role as an owner comes into play. TSG saw the opportunity to out a Hall of Fame trainer to show they are doing something. Not too sure it’s a good thing though.
      Please tell me if you get email notification of comments. I do as an admin, but we’re constantly tweaking and I can add it to the list of things to do if you’re not getting notified.

  15. MB,
    No, I haven’t received any emails so far. Nor has the system accepted a password, though it has stored my username and email address.

    I’m glad you feel obligated to let us know. It’s time a lot of recreational bettors like me stopped wearing blinkers. To what extent do you think professional bettors track trainers and owners for their horses injuries and medication?

    BTW what kind of music do you play on your guitar? Do you sing as well?

  16. I-
    I don’t sing and the people around me are better off for it. I play everything on the guitar except jazz. I leave that to those who are trained better than I.
    Will work on password and emails for you



  18. As someone who leans slightly left,I know I feel better that all the escaped goats have been corralled. Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk

  19. Back to reality no matter how many people try to make Hollendorfer a martyr not buying it. Yeah I know he is a combination of George Washington/Patrick Henry/Abraham Lincoln. Saint Jerry even. Pure as snow. Where’s the lawsuit?

  20. This bothers me on many levels. I started playing the horses seriously when lived in Bay Area in the late 80s. Was all Baze and Hollendorfer. Ron Hansen. I rooted for this guy a lot of years. Enough.

  21. ok, let’s see how the dirty owners of this and other tracks react when they get their way, have the Breeders Cup, then have another tragic day like the day we lost Shaker Knit, Mr.Nickerson, then the incredible Go For Wand. That day, can we say it was the track? Not so sure, however if we do have another day like that at Santa Anita, (esp. with the weather continuing to be horrendous out there) I think we can all agree the track is at fault,, the owners are at fault, the trainers need to have kept their horses off the track, but yet, for some reason, they are keeping the event there to “prove they are not wrong” No, its the horses’ faults, it is the trainers’ fault, everyone’s faults but who it should inded be landed on, the Stronachs’ who will indeed ruin the sport of racing. Sad.

  22. T-
    The protocols that were put into action made for much safer racing in the last half of the Santa Anita meeting. The only option the Breeders’ Cup board had was to switch the event to Churchill Downs, which has the second highest fatality rate in the country and no new protocols to improve its numbers. I think keeping the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita was the right choice for the aforementioned reasons.

  23. Hey T, welcome aboard. One thing; the fact that the Breeders’ Cup is staying at Santa Anita is a Breeders’ Cup Ltd. call. That’s the way it has worked from Day 1. Besides, do you move it to a track that recently had a worse record with respect to equine deaths. The prayer is always that the horse comes back safe, wherever it runs.

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