Quote of the Month

"Immortality has been realized once the roar of the crowd has been united."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Something to Believe In

Legends are not simply conjured out of thin air and pasted on to the pages of our children’s history books. Rather, they are conceived from the most exquisite blend of pinpoint timing and awe-inspiring achievement. Willie Mays knew this as he chased down an uncatchable fly ball in the 1954 World Series. Years later, fans knew it as Gale Sayers fielded a punt and galloped eighty-five yards over the Wrigley Field mud for a touchdown, thus marking his sixth score of the day as a rookie with the Chicago Bears. And in horse racing, Hollywood Park’s track announcer, Vic Stauffer certainly knew it as his deafening cries for Zenyatta shook the grandstand and echoed on up into the heavens during the 2010 Vanity Handicap.
Zenyatta Triumphs in the 2010 Vanity Handicap (Photo Courtesy of Benoit Photos)
In sports, and in life, everyone needs someone or something to believe in. It is belief that nourishes the spectator’s soul as they cheer on competitors in all forms of competition. Belief unites people who would otherwise have no plausible reason to interact with each other. It is the hymn the crowd hums to in one voice, a rousing Ode to Joy in a world that requires sublime harmony. As we aspire to find the next horse racing icon or legend to embrace, let us not only believe, but let us share in this belief with one another.  

Few names are as synonymous with California horse racing as that of Hall of Fame trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer. After working odd jobs under the guidance of trainers Jerry Dutton and Jerry Fanning, Hollendorfer took out his own training license in 1979. By the middle part of the 1980’s, he himself had emerged as a prominent figure on the Northern California racing scene. Over the span of the next three decades, Hollendorfer’s rise to racing immortality took shape by earning an unprecedented number of training titles at both Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields.

An equally amazing accomplishment has been the endless slew of graded stakes wins he has compiled. These victories, along with a sprinkling of good fortune in the Kentucky Oaks, have all helped to permanently cement his place in the record books. Hollendorfer has saddled such greats as Pike Place Dancer, Heatseeker, Hystericalady, Tuscan Evening, and Blind Luck. He has amassed well in excess of 6,500 wins to date, and is the third winningest trainer in the history of North American thoroughbred racing.

Jerry Hollendorfer (Photo Courtesy of Vassar Photography)
Jerry Hollendorfer has rejoiced in more jaw-dropping moments than most trainers could dare dream, yet past success has not tarnished his keen eye for talent in the present. His current stable includes the likes of stakes winners Halo Dolly, Sahara Sky, Sweet Lulu, and Tamarando. It could be said that there is little left for Hollendorfer to achieve, but the one coveted prize that has long eluded the Wizard of the West Coast has been securing victory in a Triple Crown race. This accolade now appears to be well within his grasp.

Shared Belief first appeared on the track for trainer, Jedd Josephson in a Maiden Special Weight affair held on October 19, 2013 at Golden Gate Fields. He was not the post time favorite. That designation was reserved for Time Jumper, another of Hollendorfer’s many equine prodigies. The start was an unassuming one, but as they moved past the quarter pole, it became crystal-clear that Shared Belief would have no trouble disposing of this considerably overmatched field. He won by seven lengths.

Soon after the dominant maiden score, the dark bay gelding was purchased from Pam and Marty Wygod by a partnership that included both Hollendorfer and Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing Stable. The two-year-old son of Candy Ride was headed for Southern California.

Shared Belief faced winners for the first time as he lined up alongside four rivals in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes. The race, contested in early November at Betfair Hollywood Park, was brimming with gifted runners. Among the entries, the most notable was odds-on favorite Kobe’s Back, a gray powerhouse of a colt trained by John Sadler.

Jockey Corey Nakatani was blessed with the mount on Jerry Hollendorfer’s two-year-old phenomenon that day. As the race unfolded, Shared Belief tracked the front-runner intently up the backstretch, and by the time they came off the turn, he began to leave all challengers in his wake as he made a mockery of an immensely talented field. Kobe’s Back crossed the finish line in second, nearly eight lengths behind the budding superstar.   

Shared Belief Speeds Away in the CashCall Futurity (Photo Courtesy of Benoit Photos)
Shared Belief’s final Call to the Post in 2013 came for the Grade I CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park. Twelve of the country’s most promising two-year-olds took center stage with the eyes of the racing world fixed upon them. This time, the role of favorite would be played by Shared Belief. He stalked the early pace under the cool confidence of Corey Nakatani and sat a close second, but as the leaders left the backstretch, Candy Boy made an aggressive move outside of horses and worked his way up to the front. Nakatani had seen just about enough. At the top of the stretch, he asked Shared Belief to respond, and oh, what a response it was! The grandstand quickly erupted into a thunderous roar as Shared Belief snatched the lead and widened on the field all the way to the wire.

Hollendorfer’s crown jewel has not taken a faulty stride in three starts, yet the naysayers are already questioning his level of competition, the pedigree, and his unknown efficiency on dirt as opposed to the synthetic. Doubt remains one of life’s greatest certainties, but when the winds of destiny begin to blow, it is time for even the non-believers to take notice.

Legends are not conjured out of thin air. They are bestowed upon us by the gods for all humanity to celebrate. As the first Saturday in May draws ever closer, let us celebrate in Shared Belief together.

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The author is a horse racing enthusiast determined to offer a unique vision of the sport's most paramount stories.