American Thoroughbred horse trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame in 2011. An excerpt from his biographical sketch reads:

“Major races won by Hollendorfer horses include three runnings of the Kentucky Oaks with Lite Light in 1991, Pike Place Dancer in 1996 and Blind Luck in 2010. Hollendorfer has also won the Santa Anita Handicap, Haskell Invitational, Hollywood Futurity, Delaware Handicap, Alabama Stakes, Humana Distaff Handicap and Ohio Derby, among others.”

Compare this accolade with another excerpt, this time from a news story about him on the San Francisco Chronicle website dated June 30, 2019:

“Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s career may be in jeopardy after the New York Racing Association reversed course Saturday and announced that it wouldn’t allow his horses to race at Belmont Park Race Track near New York City and Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York.

‘This could be the end of my career,’ Hollendorfer said in a phone interview with The Chronicle.

Hollendorfer previously was banned from Santa Anita in Arcadia (Los Angeles County) and Golden Gate Fields by the Stronach Group–which owns those tracks–after five of his horses died this year from catastrophic leg injuries.”

Without making a judgment about whether Mr. Hollendorfer deserves to be banned by The Stronach Group and NYRA, the five horse fatalities that led to his banishment foment arguments pertaining to the legitimacy of his Hall of Fame enshrinement.

In looking for guidance on this matter, consider two infamous cases from other sports, one in the National Football League and the other in Major League Baseball.

In order to be eligible for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame, a player or coach must be fully retired for at least five years, whereas in Thoroughbred horse racing, a trainer can be inducted while he or she is still active. Though the NFL waiting period allows electors time to contemplate a candidate’s credentials and character, it was inadequate to account for O. J. Simpson’s convictions for robbery and kidnapping in 2008, many years after he was selected for the Hall of Fame.

The Simpson situation raises the question: Should information that comes to light after a player (or horse trainer) is inducted into a Hall of Fame warrant a retraction of the award?

In Major League Baseball, Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame even though he is inarguably one of the greatest players of all time and the seriousness of the infractions for which he is denied induction pale in comparison to the O. J. Simpson felonies. Mr. Rose’s case for induction hinges on whether a Hall of Fame candidate should be evaluated solely on what he achieved on the field of play or whether off-the-field negatives, such as his gambling on baseball and prison time for tax evasion, should be considered? The Baseball Hall of Fame has previously inducted players with severe character flaws, so there is a double standard involved in Mr. Rose’s exclusion.

When somone asks how Jerry Hollendorfer can simultaneously be in the Hall of Fame for his sport, yet be banned from the most prominent American racetracks for alleged mishandling of horses, the answer is not evident. Possible explanations are: The electors in 2011 did not know of his alleged horse abuse, or did know but ignored it and focused exclusively on his outstanding achievements. Another possibility, but one that is not likely, is that Mr. Hollendorfer’s quality of care of his horses has slipped since 2011.

The circumstances of Hollendorfer, Rose, and Simpson are dramatically different. The common thread is that each case is debatable because Hall of Fame criteria are somewhat subjective and electors and fans have their own biases.

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