Anyone who accomplishes a great deal in the hot glare of the public spotlight is in jeopardy at some point of being typecast. Stripped of context and nuance, an individual will be reduced to his or her most obvious signature on the cultural landscape: Leader of the Free World, Box Office Poison, Short-Fingered Vulgarian.
Trainer of Great Fillies.
Hall of Famer Robert Wheeler was a trainer of fabulous fillies, as anyone who tried to beat Silver Spoon, Bug Brush, Miss Todd, Track Robbery, and Taisez Vous can attest.
Bobby Frankel trained Ghostzapper, sure, and Empire Maker, too. But his greatest legacy rests upon what he did with filly champions like Ginger Punch, Wandesta, Possibly Perfect, Banks Hill, and Intercontinental.
As for Larry Jones, he can insist all day long that he really did train Hard Spun, a very good colt, even though it has been the fillies Proud Spell, Believe You Can, I'm a Chatterbox, Eight Belles, Joyful Victory, and Havre de Grace keeping his name in lights.
Jerry Hollendorfer has handled his fair share of accomplished males, topped by Shared Belief and including Dakota Phone, Sahara Sky, Heatseeker, Event of the Year, and King Glorious. In a career of more than 7,000 winners, it would figure that both genders would be well represented.
Still, there is little doubt that Hollendorfer is in the Hall of Fame because of his fillies. Since 1991, the year he ventured east from his Bay Area lair to win the Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks with Lite Light, nearly every time Hollendorfer makes national headlines, it is with a world-class filly.
Now, that filly is Songbird, the undefeated champion of her 2-year-old division last year who will be making her second start at 3 on Saturday in the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita. Such a Grade 3 event for a pittance of a purse would seem to be beneath her, but the race is a means to the end, or at least to the immediate goal of the Kentucky Oaks in May. Apparently, Hollendorfer knows how to get the job done.
In 1996, Hollendorfer won his second Kentucky Oaks with Pike Place Dancer, a daughter of Seattle Dancer who defeated a field at Churchill Downs that included My Flag and Escena.
Fleet Lady was a no-nonsense California-bred who was the state champion older mare for Hollendorfer and Golden Eagle Farm in 1998 on her way to a record of 10 wins in 23 starts, including victories in the La Canada and the El Encino.
For three seasons, 2006-08, Hystericalady kept Hollendorfer in the news by winning seven major stakes, including the Delaware Handicap and the Humana Distaff, and she would have been champion of her division in 2007 if her narrow loss to Ginger Punch in the Breeders' Cup Distaff had gone the other way.
If there was a better grass mare in the country than Tuscan Evening in 2010, we were not destined to find out. After winning six straight for Hollendorfer to begin the season, the Irish filly collapsed while pulling up after a work at Del Mar and died.
"Make no mistake," Hollendorfer said at the time, "something like that hits you hard. I'm sure it affects us more than we like to let on. I'll tell you what, I shed some tears for her. She'll be in our thoughts for a very long time."
There was no consolation from the loss of Tuscan Evening, but there was distraction. Two weeks after losing Tuscan Evening, Hollendorfer was at Saratoga winning the Alabama Stakes with his little blaze-faced chestnut, Blind Luck, who earlier that year won a bitter duel with Evening Jewel to give Hollendorfer his third Kentucky Oaks win. Later, Blind Luck finished second to Royal Delta in the Breeders' Cup Distaff to clinch the 3-year-old filly title.
And now comes Songbird. Dan Ward, Hollendorfer's assistant since the latter part of 2007, provides connective tissue to the accomplished fillies of the Bobby Frankel era. Earlier in his career, Ward traveled far and wide for Frankel, helping steer the fortunes of fillies like Wandesta, Possibly Perfect, and the tempestuous Toussaud.
"When good fillies get running good, like Blind Luck did for so long, they're very, very reliable," Ward said this week from Santa Anita. "They fire every time.
"One thing they all have in common is that they are very smart," Ward added. "Especially with Songbird. Going to the gate for her first race this year, all the other fillies were wet except for her. They're very professional in the paddock, on the racetrack, during their races. That makes it a lot easier training them."
They also tend to be more social, curious members of the stable herd.
"Just like Blind Luck, Songbird loves to be at the front of her stall," Ward said. "In fact, she likes to be there so much, we pile a lot of straw right out in front of her stall and put a lot of carrots there so she doesn't have to go to the back of the stall to eat. She's very spoiled."
Nine fillies were entered against Songbird in the Santa Ysabel, most of them hoping that El Nino would make an appearance Saturday to keep the champ in the barn. No such luck.
"Yes, it looks like we'll get lucky with no rain until Sunday," Ward said. "But then, Songbird seems to make everything perfect."