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Losing an Old Schooler

Posted by on 3/24/2015 11:02:05 PM

Horseracing lost a true legend last week when Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens died after an infection set in and they might was well have played ‘Hail to the Chief’ every time he was striding down the shedrow of his New York-based stable.

There is that kind of respect this conditioner commanded and deserved among his peers and fans alike. He was known as ‘Chief’ or the ‘Giant Killer’ and both nicknames were very well intended.

It’s been over four decades since Allen Jerkens upset Secretariat in the Whitney, but he’s still cranking out winners in the Big Apple including the Grade 1 Prioress just 3 short years ago.

After winning a Grade 3 in her last race at 29-1, Emma’s Encore proved it was no fluke taking the Prioress by a nose after being saddled by Jerkens.

Emma, who paid $12.40, did it by overcoming a key scratch when speed horse Jamaican Smoke was declared. The favorite Agave Kiss had her own way on a speed conducive track but still could not hold off the distaff freight train.

“Like the old days,” Jerkens said after the race and the old days were very good. He had not won a Grade 1 since 2007 but that is not because he forgot to train, it’s because the game has changed, his owners have gone by the way side and there is just new blood out there.

Jerkens has probably been referred to as the Giant Killer more often than Wilt Chamberlain was asked, ‘how’s the weather up there’. The New York born and raised octogenarian has been pulling the David and Goliath routine for decades.

Introduced to the game by his father, who liked to patch up broken-down horses, Allen gave up the ghost of being a race rider rather early and turned to training in 1950. He won his 1st race that year fittingly on the 4th of July when a runner named Populace scored at Aqueduct. A dozen years later fate would put Wall Street investor Jack Dreyfus, Jr., at his doorstop and a long association with Hobeau Farm began.

He developed some great runners for Hobeau including Prove Out, Duck Dance and Handsome Boy but a stout performer named Beau Purple provided Jerkens with his 1st favorite moment when he beat Kelso andCarry Back in the 1962 Suburban. Beau Purple went on to beat Kelso, who won Horse of the Year honors (‘60 through ‘64) 5 straight years, in the ‘62 Man o’ War and ‘63 Widener.

The wins vs. Kelso fueled the fire for Jerkens as upset king. The great Secretariat only lost 5 times in his brilliant career. Once in his green debut, then after he was disqualified while finishing 1st in the ‘72 Champagne, Next in the Wood Memorial preceding his Triple Crown assault and twice at the hands of Jerkens-trained runners.

Onion beat Secretariat in the ‘73 Whitney and Prove Out beat him later in the year in the Woodward.

Allen was the youngest trainer at the time to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975 at the age of 45. The stakes winners he has trained over the years reads like a who’s who of the sport.

And Jerkens adapted to his horses.

Over the years, I’ve seen Jerkens-trained horses do some incredible things. Once, when I was on a roll in Las Vegas, I remember he had a horse that finished 4th or 5th going 1 1/4 miles return in a 6-furlong sprint 2 weeks later and win for fun.

The name will carry on as his sons James and Steven also are conditioners but the likes of this master will not be seen again.

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