To read through Jerry Hollendorfer's accomplishments in a legendary training career could help pass the time on a flight from one end of the country to the other. In a career that was rewarded with induction into racing's Hall of Fame in 2011, the 66-year-old Hollendorfer has won 6,419 races in his career through Sunday, placing him third on the all-time list. He's also second in 2013 wins with 112. He's won a slew of stakes race as well, but for the most part he's best known for his dominance of racing in Northern California as opposed to the Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup. In the course of more than 27,000 starts, he owns just one Breeders' Cup victory (Dakota Phone in the 2010 BC Dirt Mile) and has been blanked in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Which explains why Californians may know him as well as Kobe Bryant, but in New York, well, he's just another out-of-towner -- who just so happens to know how to win a horse race. That point was hammered home rather emphatically in Monday's $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap on Memorial Day at Belmont Park, when one of the sport's most successful figures sent out Sahara Sky to prevail by a nose and record the trainer's first Grade 1 victory in New York since 2010 when Blind Luck captured the Alabama. And before that? Hollendorfer says you would have to rummage through the record books back to Lite Light in the 1991 Coaching Club American Oaks to find his previous Grade 1 triumph in the Empire State.
“"New York is the big leagues," said Hollendorfer, who is also Sahara Sky's co-owner. "Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar are also big too, but it's nice to come out here and win a race like this against the best trainers and horses." Though based in California, Sahara Sky was not exactly a newcomer to New York heading into the Met Mile. He was last seen at Aqueduct on April 6, finishing second in the Grade 1 Carter, a race that might have added to Hollendorfer's win total if not for some traffic issues in the stretch. In the Met Mile, Sahara Sky had clear sailing on the outside and under an impeccably timed ride by Joel Rosario rallied from last in the field of nine to hit the wire inches ahead of Cross Traffic, the fiercely determined pacesetter. After finishing second by a head last month in another mile stakes at Belmont -- the Westchester -- Cross Traffic suffered another tough beat for trainer Todd Pletcher. The $2.90-to-1 second choice reeled off brutal fractions of 22.40 and 44.88 seconds and tenaciously held on to the lead until the final stride of a mile covered in 1:34.17. Flat Out, the $2.50-to-1 favorite who beat Cross Traffic in the Westchester, settled for third this time as he finished 3 ½ lengths behind the winner after being bumped while moving on the turn. Meanwhile, everything worked out perfectly for Sahara Sky -- and Hollendorfer -- on this day. "My partner [co-owner Kim Lloyd] and I talked it over and one of our goals was to win the Met Mile. I'd never won it and I wanted a chance to win it and Kim did also," said Hollendorfer, whose horse paid $11.60 as the third choice in the wagering. Hollendorfer wasn't sure if Sahara Sky had won when the horses crossed the finish line, and he was equally uncertain about future plans for the 5-year-old horse. The son of Pleasant Tap is definitely heading back to California. Yet even though Sahara Sky has yet to race beyond a mile, Hollendorfer was not prepared to rule out trying the two-turn, mile-and-an-eighth, Grade 1 Whitney on Aug. 3 when Saratoga rolls around. "The way he ran today, it looks like he could get a little more ground," Hollendorfer said. "I'll watch the films and the gallop out and see what I think about that, but it might be a possibility to look at [the Whitney]. I don't want to keep flying him across the country, though." Judging by the results of the Met Mile, there's probably a growing number of horsemen in New York who would echo that thought and recommend that Hollendorfer and Sahara Sky spend their summer out west. They, no doubt, saw enough of him in the Belmont Park winner's circle on Memorial Day.
Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar are also big too, but it's nice to come out here and win a race like this against the best trainers and horses.” -- Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer