He ranks fourth all-time in wins and tenth in money earned, yet when the sport's most prominent and popular trainers are mentioned Jerry Hollendorfer is rarely the first name mentioned.
Maybe that's because until recently he has been tucked up in Northern California, or perhaps it's the fact that he has never had that big Triple Crown horse. Whatever the reason, Holldendorfer has been nothing short of a win machine throughout his immensely successful career, but has not seemed to get the notoriety of the game's top trainers.
Of course, all of that could change this year with Chocolate Candy, who has won the California Derby and El Camino Real Derby in consecutive starts and four of his last five overall. Fact is, the son of Candy Ride might be the best chance in Hollendorfer's 30-year career to win the Kentucky Derby.
Among many so-called experts, Chocolate Candy is on the fringe of top 10 Derby watchlists. His consistency and workmanlike efforts have forced people to take notice, but his relatively low speed numbers and the fact that he has only raced on synthetic surfaces have others cautious.
On Sunday, after Chocolate Candy breezed four furlongs in :48.20 - his first work since winning the El Camino by a half-length Feb. 14 - I caught up with Hollendorfer for a candid conversation about Chocolate Candy and what winning the Kentucky Derby would mean to him.
JS: Upon reflection, what were your impressions of Chocolate Candy's El Camino performance?
JH: I thought it was good. He put up a solid 90 (Beyer), which was five points higher than his best before. The pace was very slow and (Russell Baze) had to move him to the lead earlier than we wanted. But he did the right thing by doing that. Preferably, we'd like to have speed set this horse up, but that wasn't possible in this race.
JS: You mentioned the 90 Beyer. That number is lower than what many of the top Derby contenders have posted so far. Does that concern you and how much stock do you put in the numbers?
JH: To get a 90 on synthetic was fine for me. The numbers don't transfer as well as they do on dirt. Take Hystericalady for example. She ran a 90 on synthetic and a 115 on dirt. The reality is, for the most part they get better numbers on dirt.
JS: Some weren't overly-impressed by his El Camino performance since he was all-out to beat the runner-up. What do you say?
JH: They went a half in :49. It's hard to smash horses when you go that slow early on. I thought he showed heart in the stretch. But the main thing is that we learned he can go a mile and an eighth. That's why I like that race. A lot of horses won't be able to answer that question for another month.
JS: Looking back at his PPs, Chocolate Candy was very unimpressive inhis first two starts. Now he looks like he has found his grrove. When did the light come on for him?
JH: Once we tried him long. Those first two starts were sprints. When we put him in a route he looked more comfortable.
JS: What is the plan for him now? You mentioned maybe the San Felipe would be next?
JH: It's still up in the air. It will either be the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby or just the Santa Anita Derby. We haven't decided yet.
JS: Were there any thoughts of trying Chocolate Candy on a dirt track to prep for the Derby?
JH: I don't know. You can only do so much with a horse. You have to realize that it's hard on horses when you ship them. Sometimes they don't like it and it can mess up their rhythm. I'd rather not have to do it. He really looks like he'll like dirt. Hopefully we'll find out.
JS: You've had three Derby horses (Eye of the Tiger 5th in 2003, Cause to Believe 13th in 2006 and Bwana Bull 15th in 2007). What can you take away from those experiences?
JH: I learned that it's a very difficult race to win. I haven't had much luck in it, but I'm not discouraged. The horse will take you there. If this one is good enough, we'll go. I'd like to see him try. I really like him. I've liked all the Candy Ride's I've had. They like to run.
JS: You've obviously had a very successful career. What would a win in the Derby mean to you?
JH: Every trainer has it in the back of their mind. It's one of the biggest, if not the biggest, race in the world. I'd love to win it.
JS: Is Chocolate Candy a legitimate contender?
JH: It doesn't matter what I think. The experts seem to think he's just below the top ones. I guess the only way that would change is if he won the Santa Anita Derby. I know this: He's a very sound horse and he loves to run.
JS: If Chocolate Candy runs in the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby that would be 10 races before his Derby try. That is a lot by today's standards. I've read that you would prefer to take a horse with more experience.
JH: I have no facts to back this up, but I would think horses with more experience have had more success (in the Derby). I know there have been a few exceptions lately, but they are few and far between. If a horse is sound and he likes to run it doesn't matter how many times he has run going into it. I won't just put the horse in the race to be in it. He's going to have to run well to be there and if he does, I'd love to give this one a chance. I've had a lot of horses with Jenny Craig and she deserves a shot. I'd like to win one for her.