Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was the man of the hour on Aug. 12 at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s 57th annual induction ceremonies, the only human on a list of contemporary honorees that included fillies Open Mind, Safely Kept, and Sky Beauty.
The 65-year-old conditioner was surrounded by a throng of autograph-seekers and well-wishers immediately upon his arrival at Fasig-Tipton’s Humphrey S. Finney Sales Pavilion – an hour before the program began – and his celebrity status only increased as the morning went on.
“When it comes to getting into the Hall of Fame, this was certainly not a matter of Blind Luck,” said the Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman, playing off the name of the trainer’s current top runner as he presented Hollendorfer to the crowd.
Hollendorfer, the fourth-winningest trainer of all time with 5,990 victories and more than $123 million in purses on his record through Aug. 12, credited the 4-year-old filly who ranks as the best racehorse in the nation as giving him the “final push” into the Hall of Fame.
“Blind Luck, I think, was the final kick in the pants that got me in here,” he said. “We took her everywhere and she never let us down for one minute. The East Coast is important and sometimes they don’t know what we do out on the West Coast, but there are a lot of very good horses and trainers there and a lot of competition.”
Hollendorfer, a native of Akron, Ohio, has been based in California since the late 1960s, won 37 consecutive training championships at Bay Meadows and 32 in a row at Golden Gate Fields from 1986 until the spring of 2008. He has since won six more consecutively at Golden Gate.
He trained three Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winners – Lite Light in 1991, Pike Place Dancer in 1996, and Blind Luck in 2010 – and also counts wins in the Breeders' Cup Dirt MIle (gr. I), Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), Haskell Invitational (gr. I), Hollywood Futurity (gr. I), and Delaware Handicap (gr. II), all major events, among his accomplishments.
“I’m very grateful to be inducted into the Hall of Fame today and humbled to be standing next to so many people who have done so many things,” the trainer said in a short but touching acceptance speech. “I first attended racing at Ascot Park in Ohio, where I got to see Eddie Maple ride his bug. I’ve enjoyed being an owner as well as a trainer, and I’ve enjoyed working with many top riders like Russell Baze; we’ve won more than 2,500 races together. I’ve had some great employees to help me over the years and you can’t get here without these people. It’s very special.”
Hollendorfer choked up as he listed the names of assistant trainers and grooms who have worked with him over the years, including his wife, Janet, his barn manager. She has battled a brain tumor since 2009.
The trainer received a standing ovation as he concluded his remarks.
“I’d like to dedicate this plaque to all the racing fans of America,” he said. “It will remain at Saratoga and it is forever yours.”
At the beginning of the 1 1/2-hour program, during which seven individuals were inducted, world-renowned chef and Thoroughbred owner Bobby Flay captivated the audience with a heartfelt keynote address.
“I’ve had the luck to run in races like the Breeders’ Cup, the Kentucky Oaks, and at Royal Ascot,” he said. “Those involve no sleep for days leading up, and complete emotional exhaustion after. But introducing friends and colleagues to the game, hitting the winner’s circle with people who have never been to a race before, that’s feeling you can’t bottle, that’s the feeling that puts us all in a room like this to celebrate horse racing.”
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas had fond memories to share of finding Eugine Klein’s Open Mind, a two-time champion daughter of Deputy Minister--Stage Luck, by Stage Door Johnny. The winner of 11 races swept the New York Filly Triple Crown series in 1989 and took “every trophy that wasn’t nailed down in New York,” according to Master of Ceremonies Randy Moss.
“That’s what the Hall of Fame is all about, wonderful memories and these treasures we’ve had in years past,” Lukas said. “A few years back we were at the Saratoga sale wandering around looking at various yearlings to purchase and this one chestnut filly came out and walked up and back. She struck me as being a little bit underweight, small and kind of frail, but I said, ‘I kind of like this filly, why don’t we keep an open mind?’I just hope that if you’re in the horse business you’re lucky enough to have the joy and excitement that Open Mind caused; I hope sincerely you’ll have one just like her.”
Barry Weisbord, owner of the 1989 Eclipse Award-winning top sprinter Safely Kept, who won races in five different states at 10 different tracks, called involvement with the daughter of Horatius--Safely Home, by Winning Hit, “a once-in-a-lifetime experience” and recalled saying “I think she’s a freak” when watching one of her early workouts.
“We traveled from track to track, watching her win, picking up trophies, enjoying each other’s company,” said Weisbord, who owned the filly in partnership with Richard Santuli’s Jayeff B Stable. “When we didn’t do something stupid like try to rate her or send her long, we consistently came away with the win. The experience changed all of our lives.”
The plaque for Sky Beauty, champion older female in 1994 and winner of nine grade I races, was accepted by Philip Richter, grandson of owner Georgia Hofmann’s late husband Philip Hofmann. Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens called the daughter of Blushing Groom--Maplejinsky “the best racehorse he ever trained,” one who showed her potential at age 2, developed into a champion at 3 when she swept the New York Filly Triple Crown, and was a force throughout her 4-year-old campaign.
“Sky Beauty could run,” Richter said. “She effortlessly won five-furlong races but she could also run a mile and a quarter. In many ways, Sky Beauty brought our family and friends closer together. Let’s hear it for the girls.”
Only seven other fillies, all members of the Hall of Fame, have won the former New York Filly Triple Crown which consisted of the Acorn Stakes (gr. I), Mother Goose (gr. I), and Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I).
Also inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Historic Review committee were jockey Shelby “Pike” Barnes, the first rider to top 200 wins in a single year (1888), trainer Matthew Byrnes, best known for his association with Hall of Fame runners such as Parole, Salvator, and Firenze, and the runner Duke of Magenta, whose marquee victories included the 1878 Preakness, Belmont, Travers, Withers, and Jerome.