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Jay Hovdey of DRF.com
The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association teamed with the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to point out that, “Due process is a fundamental and accepted constitutional right in our country,” and that TSG’s action against Hollendorfer “has clearly sidestepped those rights and exemplifies our concerns.”
Good for them, as far as it goes. Neither the Kentucky-based NHBPA nor the Maryland-based THA has any particular influence in California, where Hollendorfer was most effectively banned from Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields. Trainers of Thoroughbreds in California are represented by the transparently named California Thoroughbred Trainers, which has more than 600 members, including Jerry Hollendorfer.
Many of those members are wondering why the CTT has not come forward with a strong statement of support for Hollendorfer, who remains a licensee in good standing with the California Horse Racing Board despite his ouster from TSG properties. Hollendorfer has been training and racing horses at both Los Alamitos and the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton since Santa Anita management took its action on June 22, the day before the meet closed, including scratching eight runners entered for the July 5-7 holiday weekend.
On the face of it, TSG management took its action against Hollendorfer because a fourth horse suffered a fatality either training or racing during the six months of the Santa Anita meet, while two others had suffered fatal injuries at Golden Gate Fields. Hollendorfer, whose horses now are concentrated at Los Alamitos and Pleasanton, trained more than 100 horses between the two Stronach Group tracks. He has applied for stalls at the upcoming Del Mar meeting and is awaiting word as to whether or not the summertime track will fall in line with the Stronach ban.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club stall application is a boilerplate document common to California tracks, containing language pertaining to testing, access, and liability insurance. The first provision, however, goes straight to the point of who gets to be there at all:
“DMTC reserves the right without notice to the applicant, (a) to refuse this application for stable space in whole or in part, or (b) to refuse the entry or the acceptance of any entry in any race or (c) to refuse the transfer of an entry for any cause. However, DMTC’s decision to exercise its rights under (a), (b), or (c) shall not be made in an arbitrary or capricious manner. Additionally, in the event DMTC exercises its rights under (a), (b), or (c) of this Section, CTT may ask for review of the decision before the Horsemen/Management Committee. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the final decision shall be made by DMTC.”
When it comes to TSG’s action against Hollendorfer, what’s done is done. The trainer has every right to take the company to civil court if he feels he has a case based on the “arbitrary or capricious” issue, and possibly on loss of income. Hollendorfer has retained attorney Drew Cuoto to explore such possibilities.
The due process references in the U.S. Constitution refer to fair treatment by government entities, not private businesses. The idea that a private business operating with a government license can exclude an individual for its own reasons has been battled at the highest legal levels. Pick your interpretations.
A coffee shop cannot deny service to someone because of the color of their skin. A restaurant can refuse to serve someone – like a White House press secretary – if their presence is found to disrupt the operation of its business and well-being of other customers. The refusal of a baker to do business with a gay couple was allowed to stand because the Supreme Court found his religious beliefs were abused by a state civil-rights commission. And so on.
“CTT’s directors and staff are always concerned about fair treatment for our individual members, of course,” said Alan Balch, the organization’s executive director. “That’s one of our principal responsibilities, reflected in our Race Meet Agreements with individual tracks as those contracts have developed over the decades.”
Balch added that CTT leadership is in close touch and working in conjunction with Hollendorfer's attorney.
Those agreements are at the heart of CTT’s reticence to go public with a strong statement of support for one of its members. The Hollendorfer case has its unprecedented aspects – certainly no other Hall of Fame trainer has been barred from California racetracks without a concurrent ruling by the California Horse Racing Board. If Hollendorfer is denied stalls at Del Mar, it would seem to fall neatly into the section of the contract that requires track management and the CTT to hold a hearing into the matter, and if necessary request an arbitrator appointed by the racing board.
Further, the contract between track and trainers includes mutual agreement that such issues – even incendiary, headline issues like the Hollendorfer ban – should be settled, “without undue publicity, by negotiation and consultation.”
Translation: Out-of-state groups representing trainers can protest the Hollendorfer situation to high heavens. But until Del Mar management makes its decision on the status of the trainer known, the CTT will abide by its contract. Balch is hoping his members see the bigger picture.
“The ongoing welfare of the sport as a whole must be the overriding concern of both horsemen’s organizations and racing associations,” he said.