In the Arena: The Good Name of Jerry Hollendorfer

California-based trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has been banned from racing his horses at several tracks this season.

Updated: July 12, 2019 • 3:35 PM ET

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Del Mar is just the latest track that has banned trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from racing his horses.

The phrase, “your name is Mudd,” is often misattributed to the doctor that set the leg of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. The moniker of someone’s name being soiled, or “mud,” originates well before the 19th Century, when it was associated with things that were worthless or polluting.

Recall, words and their etymologies are rather like geology; time changes them beyond immutability.


Somewhere along the way, “mud” became associated with people and it stuck (sorry, couldn’t resist). Fools and those that weren’t too bright were connected to the term. Those that were unfortunately tagged with it were thought to be untrustworthy in name.

Thus, there were several incarnations of the usage; your name was mud, you could be dragged through the mud and you could even have mud in your eye, which became a famous drinking toast. Musing on this evolution of the word mud and coupling it with the idea of one’s legacy, we can admit that a subject like this cannot be taken lightly.

There’s something endemic in our society when it comes to protecting all of it. Millennials have learned this the hard way, posting outlandish photos of themselves for would-be employers to see. Jefferson believed that “the Earth belonged to the living,” but he probably didn’t have something like that in mind.

In other words, how we carried ourselves in the past and the ways in which people thought of us was and still is extremely important. Once your name is sullied and besmirched, it can be forever.

I suspect California-based trainer Jerry Hollendorfer feels this way right now.

Rumblings in the press and out in the Twitterverse seem to be indicating that his name is mud after the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields, asked him to leave, permanently. They said that the HOF trainer’s treatment of horses, after breakdowns, was unacceptable, so he had to go. Attempt to find a landing strip, he was summarily rebuffed by the New York Racing Association after being initially told he could run.

Now, Del Mar Racetrack outside San Diego, with its meet less than a week away, must decide what to do. Let Hollendorfer run his charges, or not?

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How is this possible? What did he do to be banned from two California tracks, with one possibly on the way, and being refused refuge out in New York?

This past week, Hollendorfer’s lawyer accused Del Mar of possibly basing the decision on nothing but public relations. At first, that seems blasé. But, why would Del Mar want to allow the trainer in since he’s so closely associated with the events of this past spring at Santa Anita?

I don’t know whether Hollendorfer should be banned from Del Mar or any other track. His fate has entered a new arena — the court of public opinion. It’s not a place that’s fair or structured; rather, it’s a land where the wind blows, depending on the mood and the media.

So, what can he do?

In short, nothing. In fact, it may be time to seek a respite or an early retirement. Let’s face it, Hollendorfer has had a great career and one that has been full of triumph. Would riding off into the sunset be such a dark mark against him?

The arena is an unrelenting one, so courage, patience and humility will be necessary to weather such an experience. I wish Mr. Hollendorfer well.

Sometimes mud just cannot wash off, however it was acquired.