The Stronach Group banned a Hall of Fame horse trainer after a thoroughbred died at its Santa Anita race track, the 30th fatality this season at a facility that has become a battleground for the future of the sport.
Jerry Hollendorfer, whose horses have won more than 7,600 races during a five-decade career, is no longer welcome at the storied track in Southern California owned by Toronto’s Stronach family. He was banned after American Currency, a four-year-old thoroughbred, was euthanized after being injured during a training run. It was the fourth horse trained by Mr. Hollendorfer to die at Santa Anita this season.
Belinda Stronach, president and chair of The Stronach Group (TSG), rolled out a series of initiatives over the past two years aimed at making racing safer for horses. This includes cutting medication given to horses, such as drugs that mask pain during training and races. In a press release on Saturday, TSG said: “Individuals who do not embrace the new rules and safety measures that put horse and rider safety above all else, will have no place at any Stronach Group racetrack."
TSG, a private company, generated US$1.1-billion in revenues last year from racing and related gambling and real estate ventures, but increasing opposition to racing is putting the future of the industry in doubt.
This season’s fatalities at Santa Anita have prompted animal-welfare groups, California’s horse racing regulator and Governor Gavin Newsom to call for a halt to racing at the track. TSG, with support from horse owners and trainers, has refused to shut down the storied site.
“I’ve started 33,500 horses in my career. I’ve never been suspended,” Mr. Hollendorfer said on the weekend in a telephone interview with Reuters. He said: “I thought that was a little bit premature and extreme, but I’ll probably have to step away from racing here for a while.”
In addition to Santa Anita and the Golden Gate Fields facility in California, TSG owns racetracks in Florida and Maryland, where its Pimlico track is the site of the annual Preakness Stakes, part of racing’s signature Triple Crown series of races.
Santa Anita staged 29 races featuring more than 200 horses on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then closed for the summer. The track, which hosted its first race in 1904, is scheduled to reopen in September and host the Breeders’ Cup World Championship event in November.
Mr. Hollendorfer is the fourth trainer to be banned at Santa Anita this season and by far the highest-profile industry figure to be subject to sanctions. TSG said in a news release: “We regret that Mr. Hollendorfer’s record in recent months at both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields has become increasingly challenging and does not match the level of safety and accountability we demand.”
Over the course of his career, Mr. Hollendorfer has fielded horses that won 7,617 races, the third-most wins of all time among trainers. His horses have claimed approximately US$200-million in prize money. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2011.
Race-horse fatalities at Santa Anita are playing into the continuing court battle for control of TSG between company founder Frank Stronach and his daughter, Belinda. In recent weeks, Mr. Stronach, the 86-year-old former chief executive of auto-parts company Magna International Inc., blamed fatalities at the track on poor management at TSG, and said his daughter planned to sell the race tracks. Ms. Stronach denied these allegations in a notice of libel letter to her father.
The Stronach family is fighting for control of a family fortune worth an estimated $1.2-billion. Along with the racetracks, TSG owns real estate, a media and gambling company and an agricultural business. Mr. Stronach handed control of TSG to his daughter in 2013 when he ran for political office in his native Austria. He filed a lawsuit last November in a bid to win back the company, and more than $500-million in damages, and the case is now winding its way through the courts.
On the weekend, animal-rights groups continued to call for an end to racing and said banning Mr. Hollendorfer does not change the nature of the sport. Heather Wilson, the West Coast co-ordinator for anti-racing website Horseracing Wrongs, told California newspaper The Mercury News: “They are making Hollendorfer the sacrificial lamb. It’s not the trainer, it’s the industry.”
With a report from Reuters