After nearly 5,400 wins (and counting), 377 stakes victories (and counting) and more training titles than most barns have horses, Jerry Hollendorfer should have nothing left to prove in his career.
But despite a résumé that seems destined for the Hall of Fame, Hollendorfer is still questioned about one missing achievement.
When the best trainers never to win a Triple Crown race are mentioned, Hollendorfer's name is usually on that list — a situation he hopes to rectify when he sends out Grade III winner Chocolate Candy in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
In Northern California, Hollendorfer is nothing short of a one-man dynasty, taking every training title at major Bay Area meets from 1986 until 2008, when William Morey edged him at Golden Gate Fields.
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Though Hollendorfer has conditioned Kentucky Oaks winners Lite Light (1991) and Pike Place Dancer (1996) along with Grade I winners Hystericalady and Heatseeker, he had saddled only five other starters in Triple Crown races before Chocolate Candy's fifth-place effort in this year's Kentucky Derby.
"You know, I just do the best I can with whatever horses I have, and I think I don't have a whole lot to prove," Hollendorfer said during a national teleconference last week. "I mean, everybody would like to win a Triple Crown race. It would lend a lot of credibility to anybody's career so ... it would certainly lend to mine if I could win the Belmont."
As his record indicates, Hollendorfer won't bring just any horse to the Triple Crown. Chocolate Candy's presence in two of the three legs speaks to how highly his trainer thinks of him.
Though he was often overshadowed by Grade I winner Pioneerof the Nile, Chocolate Candy emerged as one of the top California-based contenders this winter. Since finishing sixth in his first two starts — both sprints — the bay son of Candy Ride has been off the board only once in eight subsequent outings and won the Grade III, 11⁄8-miles El Camino Real Derby in February.
"I think he ranks right up there," Hollendorfer said of Chocolate Candy. "He's a beautiful-looking horse, and he covers a lot of ground. If I can get a little luck, I think he'll run real good in the Belmont."
In the Kentucky Derby and his runner-up effort in the Santa Anita Derby, Chocolate Candy — who is owned by the Craig Family Trust — was near the rear of the field before making his move.
Chocolate Candy put in solid rallies those times, but Hollendorfer is quick to point out the colt is not a confirmed closer. In each of his four wins, Chocolate Candy has been much closer to the early pace — a tactic Hollendorfer would like to see him duplicate over Belmont's 11/2-mile distance.
"He did get squeezed a little at the start in the Derby, so he was a little more off the pace than we wanted him to be," Hollendorfer said. "I'd rather be more forwardly placed, but a lot of that depends on which post you get and what you have to overcome in the beginning of the race."
The only other horse Hollendorfer has run in the Belmont Stakes was the hard-luck Globalize, who had to scratch from the 2000 Kentucky Derby after being kicked by a stable pony. The horse then broke in the air at the start of the Belmont en route to finishing 10th.
With a little good fortune this time, however, Hollendorfer might just be able to rid himself of one of the few gaps on his résumé.
"I thought Chocolate Candy was one the best horses I've tried to take into the Triple Crown races," Hollendorfer said. "I hope he validates that on June 6."