Judge tentatively lifts ban on Hall of Fame horse racing trainer Jerry Hollendorfer – USA TODAY

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SAN DIEGO — A San Diego judge on Thursday tentatively decided to lift a local ban against Hall of Fame horse racing trainer Jerry Hollendorfer — a ruling that paves the way for the trainer to participate at a local track that considered him to be a risk to its reputation and commitment to horse safety.

The ruling by Judge Ronald Frazier is subject to a hearing and final ruling on Friday in San Diego County Superior Court. But to keep its ban against Hollendorfer, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will have to convince the judge that his tentative reasoning is wrong.

Del Mar had banned Hollendorfer from its summer meet after he became the public face of the catastrophic breakdown crisis in horse racing. In a six-month span since December, Hollendorfer’s horses accounted for six of the 39 dead horses at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields.

Frazier’s tentative decision grants Hollendorfer a preliminary injunction that lets him participate in Del Mar’s summer meet, which started last week and runs through Labor Day.

Frazier’s tentative ruling stated: “The court orders Defendant Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is enjoined from denying Mr. Hollendorfer’s stall application, from refusing Mr. Hollendorfer entry to the Del Mar races, and from preventing Mr. Hollendorfer’s access to the fairgrounds as necessary to saddle, observe, and race his horses until fair procedure can be completed, in the form of arbitration as per the Race Meet Agreement.”

Hollendorfer also had been banned in June at Santa Anita after four of his horses there died in racing or training. Of the 30 dead horses at Santa Anita since December, no other trainer had more than two fatal breakdowns in training or racing.

Del Mar then followed Santa Anita’s lead by banning him, too, citing his death record in court documents. But Hollendorfer, 73, responded by suing Del Mar last week. He argued Del Mar’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and that he didn’t get a fair hearing.

The judge agreed in his tentative ruling. The ruling does not apply to bans at other tracks.

“The Race Meet Agreement, the Stall Application, and the relevant legal authorities all support the same conclusion: Del Mar TC is not permitted to arbitrarily deny Mr. Hollendorfer’s stall application, nor arbitrarily refuse him entry to a race,” the judge wrote in the three-page decision. “Despite this, there is evidence Del Mar TC did indeed arbitrarily deny Mr. Hollendorfer’s stall application without first providing him fair procedure. Accordingly, the court finds there is adequate evidence to conclude Plaintiffs have a reasonable likelihood of prevailing on the merits, as to their claims for declaratory relief and breach of contract.”

In response to Hollendorfer’s lawsuit, Del Mar’s president Josh Rubinstein and Del Mar’s attorney, Chris Jaczko, explained in court documents last week that the trainer was considered a horse safety and public-relations risk for the track.

“Ordering (Del Mar) to permit Hollendorfer to train and race horses at Del Mar will lead to cries that (Del Mar) is not doing what it can to ensure horse safety, and if a fatal injury were to occur to one of his horses, the clamor to end horse racing would be deafening,” Jaczko wrote the court in a court filing last week.

Hollendorfer’s attorney, Drew Couto, described his client’s recent death toll as an aberration and blamed the fatality crisis on heavier rainfall and The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields. 

Couto said management at those tracks put pressure on horsemen “to run more horses more often” in pursuit of profit. He said in two prior years at Santa Anita, Hollendorfer had just one racing fatality out of more than 550 starts.

Frazier made his tentative decision based on the likelihood that Hollendorfer would prevail on the merits of his case in a future hearing, as well as the relative harm he’d suffer if he didn’t get an injunction in the meantime.

Hollendorfer’s legal team “submitted sufficient evidence for the court to conclude Mr. Hollendorfer will suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not issued,” Frazier wrote. “Mr. Hollendorfer has been a licensed thoroughbred owner and trainer for approximately 40 years… This is his only occupation, and his principal income is derived from participating in the races.”

Hollendorfer declined comment to USA TODAY Sports on the judge’s tentative decision, saying he wanted to wait until after Friday’s hearing and final decision. 

Follow sports reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: [email protected]

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