Allen Jerkens and the Greatest Year Ever

You can go back in history and find a number of trainers who have had spectacular years. D. Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, and Bobby Frankel are just a few of the modern trainers who smashed the record books, saddling dozens of major stakes winners and dominating their sport like few, if any, before them.

But when it comes to the greatest year ever by a trainer, the hands-down winner, in one person’s opinion, was Allen Jerkens in 1973. No, he didn’t break any records and didn’t saddle any classic winners, or even any champions. So, how could “The Chief,” as he is affectionately known, have had the greatest year ever?

First, let’s establish the fact that Jerkens’ career has always existed in a different realm than other trainers. He rewrote the meaning of the word unconventional, and simply put, did things differently than anyone else. He had to, because his stable was unlike anyone else’s. It usually was made up of a ragamuffin group of misfits and castoffs, most of which were owned by his longtime friend Jack Dreyfus, who was every bit as unconventional as Jerkens. They truly were racing’s Odd Couple, but together they struck fear in every trainer and owner who sent a favorite to the post.

Now in his seventh decade of training, Jerkens still is the most revered trainer in the country and idolized by those who now dominate the sport. And despite all his memorable stakes victories, he still cries openly whenever one of his horses wins a stakes, whether a minor grade III or for New York-breds.

Whenever the year 1973 is discussed, Secretariat’s Triple Crown comes to mind first, followed by Big Red’s two shocking defeats at the hands of the Jerkens-trained Onion (in the Whitney) and Prove Out (in the Woodward).

But to give you an idea just how special a year this was for Jerkens, consider this: When the year started, Onion had won only four-of-11 starts in allowance company; Prove Out had won only four races (a maiden and three allowance races) in 27 starts with Buddy Hirsch, finishing out of the money 17 times; Vertee had earned only $20,000 in his entire career; Poker Night had been running in $13,000 maiden claiming races; Step Nicely had broken his maiden in an $18,000 claiming race; and King’s Bishop was a solid stakes horse in the Midwest, trained by T.J. Kelly.

By the end of the year, all six horses had won the equivalent of grade I stakes for Jerkens.

The two defeats of Secretariat solidified Jerkens’ title as “The Giant Killer.” But there had been numerous other occasions where “David” had slain “Goliath.” In addition to defeating Secretariat at 1-10 and 3-10, Jerkens knocked off the mighty Kelso three times with Beau Purple. In those three races – the Man o’War, Suburban, and Widener – Kelso was even-money, 3-5, and 1-2, while Beau Purple paid $43.30, $12.60, and $8.70.

To demonstrate just how unconventional Jerkens could be, he had taken over the training of Jack Dreyfus’ horses in 1962 and two months later found himself running against Kelso and Carry Back with a hard-headed speed horse named Beau Purple, who had been beaten 17 lengths in an overnight handicap in his most recent start. Beau Purple was an enigma in that he needed the lead, but didn’t want to be challenged.

Jerkens got a feel for him by breezing him three-quarters in 1:19, a mile in 1:45, and a mile and a quarter in 2:09. He knew he had to let him roll if he was going take on Kelso and Carry Back, so he put exercise rider George Wallace on him for his next work, because Wallace liked to go fast. Six days before the Suburban, Beau Purple worked six furlongs in 1:10 flat.

Two days before the Suburban, Jerkens sent Beau Purple out for a slow mile breeze, wanting to take some of the speed away. But the horse was feeling so good, he went the mile in 1:37 and galloped out 1 1/8 miles in 1:50 – two days before the Suburban.

“I said to myself, ‘If this sonofagun isn’t bothered at all by this work, he’s going to run the race ofr his life.’ I came back to the barn later that afternoon and he was eating better than he ever did. Most horses with class will eat better when you work them hard, and the horses without class will back off their feed.”

Beau Purple was gunned to the lead, with Bill Shoemaker on Kelso and John Rotz on Carry Back eyeballing each other and paying no attention to Beau Purple. When both horses closed in and moved up to Beau Purple’s flank he looked dead. Jerkens couldn’t figure out how a horse who worked in 1:10 could let horses close in on him after going in 1:12 4/5. Just then, Beau Purple kicked on and came home his final quarter in :24  flat, drawing off to a 2 1/2-length victory. His time of 2:00 3/5 established a new track record. No one knew it, but The Giant Killer had been born.

In addition, Jerkens upset Buckpasser (7-10) with Handsome Boy ($12.60) in the Brooklyn Handicap; Riva Ridge (1-2) with Prove Out ($11) in the Jockey Club Gold Cup; Forego (2-1) with Step Nicely ($17.40) in the Jerome Handicap; Cicada (2-5) with Pocasaba ($21.40) in the Black Helen Handicap; Numbered Account (4-5) with Blessing Angelica ($11.80) in the Delaware Handicap; Summer Guest (4-5) and Numbered Account (9-5) with Poker Night ($11.20) in the Top Flight Handicap; Numbered Account (3-10) with Poker Night ($8) in the Bed ‘o Roses Handicap; Malicious (7-10) with Winnie ($14.20) in the Gravesend Handicap; Wajima (3-10) with Group Plan ($14.40) in the Jockey Club Gold Cup; Fanfreluche (3-5) with Taken Aback ($16.40) in the Spinster Stakes; Moccasin (2-1) with Mac’s Sparkler ($10.40) in the Columbiana Handicap; Straight Deal (6-5),  with Mac’s Sparkler ($9.20) in the Black Helen Handicap; Straight Deal (7-10), Gamely (9-2), and Lady Pitt (5-1) with Mac’s Sparkler ($18.80) in the Beldame Stakes; and Temperence Hill (2-1) with Hechizado ($14.40) in the Brooklyn Handicap.

And who can forget Wagon Limit’s shocking defeat of Horse of the Year Skip Away and Gentlemen at 34-1 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Even as recently as last year, Jerkens upset 1-5 favorite Agave Kiss with 39-1 Emma’s Encore in the grade III Victory Ride Stakes. Almost every one of the horses mentioned above that Jerkens defeated was a champion. And eight of the horses he defeated are in the Hall of Fame.

Jerkens has always said there is no great secret to upsetting champions. “Great horses benefit from their reputation,” he said years ago. “Trainers are scared off and the fields usually are small with little or no competition. They win a lot of races by default. Take Secretariat for instance, if he didn’t have a nitwit like me to put two horses in against him he would have won both the Whitney and Woodward by default.

“The way I figure it, great horses don’t win all their races while at the top of their game. It’s physically and mentally impossible to keep them at that peak. But they’re good enough to win a lot of races when they’re only 80 percent. If you can catch them at that time with a horse who’s 110 percent, you have a shot to beat them. But you don’t have a prayer unless your horse is extra special on that given day, and you can catch a great horse going the other way.”

It sounds simple the way Jerkens puts it, but few trainers have had the knack of getting horses 110 percent on the days when it counted.

Jimmy Rhodes exercised horses for Jerkens for nearly four decades, and had been around great horses, having exercised and broken Nashua and Bold Ruler for Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

“Allen is always doing something new,” Rhodes said back in the late ‘80s. “Just when I think I know what he’s going to do with a horse, he goes and does something else. I know one thing; I wouldn’t want to have to train against him. To beat Allen, you have to be at the top of your game.”

Longtime assistant trainer Andy Descernio, who rubbed Bold Ruler for Fitzsimmons and had been around horses like Gallant Fox, once said, “I’ve only worked for two trainers on the racetrack, and like Sunny Jim, Allen has that special touch. And he’s always coming up with new things.”

Stable agent Bill Stone had worked with Max Hirsch and Bert Mulholland and said Jerkens was one of the best horsemen he’d ever seen. “He has a God-given sense about him,” he said. “He can do anything with a horse – take a sprinter and stretch him out, get a cuckoo bird and calm him down, buy or claim a cheap horse and make a stakes winner out of him. He just makes horses happy.”

Another assistant back in the ‘80s, John LaRock, said, “Allen never gives up on a horse. He tries everything possible and leaves no stone unturned.”

Chicago Dave, who had worked for Jerkens off and on over the years and been with Wayne Lukas, Shug McGaughey, Woody Stephens, and Jack Van Berg, called Jerkens, “The last of the real horsemen. He perceives things others just don’t see. In the springtime, he’d pay old drunks to go out and get a wheelbarrow full of dandelions, because they have a natural remedy in the roots that keeps horses healthy. Who knows what Allen could have achieved if he went out and bought horses at the sale like Lukas.”

And who knows what he might have achieved if he wasn’t dealing mainly with obscure pedigrees all those years.

No one appreciated Jerkens more than Dreyfus, who was often seen playing touch football with Jerkens and several stablehands from around the backstretch outside Jerkens’ barn. Jerkens’ competitive spirit was not confined to the racetrack. It carried over into everything he did. Just try dropping a pass thrown by Jerkens during one of those “friendly” football games. He could get aggravated with his horses when they underachieved, but he would quickly get back in their head to figure out what went wrong.

“Allen seems to know the horses’ feelings,” Dreyfus once said. “He puts himself in their place and they seem to know this and do their best for him. It’s simply magnificent the things he can get some horses to do for him.”

That was never more evident than in 1973, when Jerkens’ horses tore up their past performances and rose to a level they had never before come close to attaining. It was like a high school football team going above and beyond their capabilities in order to please their coach.

There certainly was no reason to think an allowance horse like Onion could even close to beating Secretariat.

“He had run well early in the year, but it looked like he was tailing off a little after Jorge Velasquez let him run off by nine lengths for some reason in an allowance race,” Jerkens recalled. “I freshened him a little and pointed him toward the Whitney. There were rumors that Secretariat was going to run, so I figured it would be a small field.”

While Secretariat was breaking track records in his works, Onion was breezing seven furlongs in a sluggish 1:31.

“We went up to Saratoga to work Onion the Sunday before the race, and I ran into (jockey) Robyn Smith,” Jerkens said. “She asked to work Onion for me, but I told her it was too important a work. “She said to me, ‘Why, do you think I’m going to mess it up?’ So I let her work him and he went a half in :47 flat. Two days later, we ran him in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race and he won by eight lengths in 1:15 1/5, breaking the track record.

“We blew him out another eighth of a mile after the allowance race, and another eighth the morning of the Whitney. I was hoping Secretariat would chase everyone away and we’d have a good chance for second.”

A record crowd turned out for the Whitney, and for the first time, NYRA opened the infield to the public. Only five went to the post with Secretariat the overwhelming favorite at 1-10. Although the accomplished grade I winner True Knight, owned by Darby Dan, was in the field, the crowd made Onion second choice at 5-1, demonstrating the respect they had for Jerkens.

Of course, the rest, as they say, is history. To what extent Secretariat was affected by the virus he was either incubating or already was showing symptoms of, we’ll never know for sure. The bottom line is that Secretariat couldn’t catch the pacesetting Onion, making several runs at him, as a shocked nation watched in disbelief.

“Onion was a better horse than people think,” Jerkens said. “What really disappointed me was that the following spring he bowed a tendon and was never the same, It was unfortunate because I really believed he was going to be a top handicap horse that year.”

The Whitney was the only stakes Onion would ever win. After bowing following two impressive allowance wins, he returned to the races, but could only manage three victories in 12 starts. He lived out the rest of his days as a pensioner at Dreyfus’ Hobeau Farm in Ocala. Onion’s name will forever be linked, not only to Secretariat, but to Upset and Jim Dandy. It was this trio that became a part of Saratoga lore, giving birth to the terms “Graveyard of Favorites” and “Graveyard of Champions.”

Earlier that year, Jerkens won the Widener and John B. Campbell Handicaps with Vertee, whose sale later in the year enabled Jerkens to purchase Prove Out from King Ranch. (For the complete story of Prove Out see “The Unbeatable Horse”).

One of Jerkens’ greatest training jobs that or any other year was with Poker Night, who rose from the depths of the claiming ranks to become one of the top fillies in the country, knocking off several champions along the way. After running in five claiming races for Maje Odom at 2, she was sold to Jerkens (who had carte blanche from Dryefus to buy any horse he wanted), winning a pair of allowance races early in her 3-year-old campaign. Jerkens then pulled one of his unorthodox, but brilliant moves by entering her, not only against older fillies and mares in the Bed o’ Roses Handicap, but against the great Phipps filly Numbered Account.

“Most people never try running 3-year-olds against older horses early in the year,” Jerkens said years ago. “But I always try to look for opportunities with horses. If I ever had a top Kentucky Derby horse, the press would have a lot of fun with me. Instead of running in the conventional 3-year-old races, I’d run in races like the Excelsior Handicap for older horses at a mile and a quarter or the mile and a quarter Trenton Handicap at Garden State, or even the Ben Ali at Keeneland at a mile and an eighth.

“I just don’t understand why people are afraid to do it when they get such a big weight allowance. I don’t buy the premise that a horse can take the heart out of another horse. I’ve had lots of horses I’ve run over their heads and they’d come right back and win. Of course, if you do it consistently you can wear them out.

“I bought Poker night from Maje for $25,000 because she was by Poker and I thought she might make a good grass horse. I looked at her and I liked her angle; she just appealed to me. I’m not good at picking out fat yearlings from their angles, but she was 3, and when she walked out of her stall, I knew I wanted to buy her. I bought her in February and won with her five days later. She was doing so well and eating so well, we just ran her in every race that came along.”

Poker Night not only defeated Numbered Account in the Bed ‘o Roses, she came back against older fillies and beat Numbered Account again, as well as the previous year’s Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama winner Summer Guest, by four lengths in the Top Flight Handicap. She went on to win such top stakes as the Interborough and Hempstead Handicaps, and finished first in the Ladies Handicap, only to be disqualified, and was second in the Beldame twice.

When Step Nicely was a 2-year-old, Jerkens did not exactly look at him with instant reverence. However, he had no way of knowing at the time that a tiger lurked inside that little black frame.

“He was another of my favorite horses,” Jerkens said. “He finished in the money even when he wasn’t doing good. As a 2-year-old, he would throw all his exercise riders off. He just didn’t want to train. I ran him for an $18,000 claiming tag because I didn’t think he was that good, but he was a feisty little guy.”

Jerkens worked with him, and he wound up winning the Cowdin Stakes, beating Stop the Music and Linda’s Chief at odds of 16-1. He also placed in the Champagne and Garden State Stakes to Secretariat. The following year he upset Forego and Linda’s Chief in the Jerome at odds of 7-1, covering the mile in 1:34  flat. Also in the field were Our Native, winner of the Flamingo, Ohio Derby, and Monmouth Invitational; My Gallant, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes; and the Jersey Derby winner Knightly Dawn. Jerkens felt he should have finished ahead of Secretariat in the Wood Memorial.

“Secretariat lugged in on him all the way down the stretch, and beat us a half-length for third,” Jerkens said.

An ankle injury kept Step Nicely out for most of 1974, but he returned as a 5-year-old, winning the Roseben, Westchester, and Excelsior Handicaps. In 48 career races, Step Nicely brought back a check in 44 of them, while racing against the likes of Secretariat, Forego, Wajima, Linda’s Chief, and Stop the Music. He eventually was retired to pebble Hill Farm in Ocala.

Jerkens’ last big horse in 1973 was King’s Bishop. Racing for Craig Cullinan as a 3-year-old, he won the Pontiac Grand Prix and Round Table Handicap at Arlington and the Michigan Mile and an Eighth at Detroit Racecourse. He then was sold to Mr. Richard DuPont and turned over to Jerkens. Earlier in the year, he had finished second to Key to the Mint in the Excelsior Handicap, and it was obvious he was a good horse, but Jerkens wasn’t satisfield with good. He decided to convert him into a sprinter.

“He was a very fast horse, but his wind was bothering him,” Jerkens recalled.

Dropping back from 1 1/4 miles in the Grey Lag Handicap, King’s Bishop set a new track record for seven furlongs at Belmont, winning the Carter Handicap by 5 1/2 lengths in a blistering 1:20 2/5, He added the Fall Highweight Handicap, defeating the speedy Shecky Greene, and was third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths, in the Met Mile.

“Late in the fall he started having real bad problems with his wind and we had to retire him,” Jerkens said.

King’s Bishop’s name is still remembered, thanks to NYRA naming a seven-furlong stakes after him at Saratoga that has grown to grade I status and is regarded as the most prestigious 3-year-old sprint in the country, along with the Malibu Stakes run at Santa Anita in late December.

It can be said that no trainer has ever done so much with so little in a single year. Two years later, Jerkens became the youngest trainer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Jerkens, now 84, wins an occasional stakes, often at Saratoga, and still gets as emotional as ever. Owners nowadays seem to go for youth and big-names over experienced Hall of Fame trainers. Perhaps they are too young themselves to realize the true greatness they are passing up. In an era of instant gratification and win first time out, Jerkens’ old school methods seem to have, as Margaret Mitchell would say, gone with the wind.

Jerkens, much to his dismay, will always be known as The Giant Killer, when in reality it is he who is the giant.


Leave a Comment:

Brown brother

Sorry Steve, despite the usual great writing, your premise here is wrong.  Even considering difference in quality of stock, Jerkens' 73 training job pales next to Bobby Frankel's 2003. The way Bobby kept Medaglia d'Oro, Empire Maker, Sightseek, Aldebaran and Heat Haze etc. all in top form that year is the most amazing feat of training in recent times.  Not ti mention that despite the perhaps unusual pedigrees of the Chief's 1973 barn, Dreyfus, DuPont and his other owners were some of the wealthiest in the game. Still enjoyed the column immensely.

29 Aug 2013 9:06 PM
Paula Higgins

Loved this piece Steve! Alan Jerkins is a very, very smart trainer. I really liked the part about Secretariat and Onion. His comments about how a great horse has the possibility of being beaten by a lesser horse who is peaking, was spot on. I think his gift was maxing the potential of horses who were not great, but might have moments of greatness. What a interesting man.

29 Aug 2013 10:10 PM

Thank you for telling some of those details about why Allen Jerkens is called the Giant Killer, giving us the inside information.  Another great article, Steve!  Thanks!

29 Aug 2013 11:01 PM

Nice article, Steve, and Jerkens' feats are deserving of your praise. My "best year" vote would go to Eddie Neloy in 1966.

29 Aug 2013 11:26 PM
Pedigree Ann

I noticed some things "The Chief" said that today's trainers might want to heed.

"Most horses with class will eat better when you work them hard, and the horses without class will back off their feed.” Working horses hard or more frequently isn't cruel, if they react well to it. And note that he had horses run blow-outs a few days apart and on the day of the race. Fitness, people, fitness.

Also I liked to see his endorsement of running 3yos against older horses earlier in the year because they get a great weight allowance. When was the last time a 3yo run in the Met Mile, which was often used as a Belmont prep in the past? It is the perfect place for fast sophomores who have shown that 9f or 10f is not their forte.

30 Aug 2013 1:54 AM
The Deacon

Love your trips down memory lane Steve. You mention a lot of great names of the past many of us had forgotten about.

Moccasin, Numbered Account, and Wajima to name three.

I just shake my head when I think of all these memories you have stored up. I just don't know how you do it.....

30 Aug 2013 3:19 AM

Love the history lessons you give us, another wonderful story that every racing fan should know.

30 Aug 2013 6:09 AM
Daniel Jividen

What I love about Steve Haskins's nostalgia pieces are the behind the scenes anecdotes.  For example this column - the quotes from exercise riders,  grooms and assistant trainers, the touch football games behind Jerkens's barn.  Haskins gives us such rich and vivid pictures of life on the backstretch.  Steve Haskins is maturing into one of the best turf writers since Joe Palmer.

30 Aug 2013 11:23 AM
Jackie WV

Thanks so much for the great story on Mr. Jerkens!! I really didn't know anything about him before this story. I had always heard about "Onion", but never knew who trained him. I've only been a racing fan for 7 or 8 years now, so I love learning about the old timers and the golden days of racing any chance I get!!  

I rescued my OTTB in 2005, started researching pedigrees, and eventually fell in love with the horse racing world. I've been a huge fan/follower ever since.  Isn't it amazing how a lovable ex-racer could ignite such a passion for the sport?

Anyway, please keep the stories coming Steve.....I have learned so much from you in the past few years!!  Thanks again!

30 Aug 2013 1:53 PM
spitting the bit

Great article....I still have the photo of Onion winning the Whitney, front page, above the fold, in the Washington Post. What a list great names from the great 70's in horse racing.  thanks!!

30 Aug 2013 2:53 PM
steve from st louis

Brown Brother, I think you are "up the track". The NYRA circuit is a much bigger "sand box" than the California circuit where Frankel played. When a trainer can beat the prevailing Triple Crown winner during that Triple Crown year twice with two different horses, that is heady stuff that probably has never been done before or since. As far as wealthy clients, Frankel never chased any empty wagons and was probably favored in the majority of his wins whereas The Chief traveled by "boxcars". No comparison. Sorry.  

30 Aug 2013 3:20 PM
Saratoga AJ

Steve, thank you for your wonderful article about the Chief. You are so right...all the other trainers from Pletcher to Zito to Mott, ALL of them, idolize Allen Jerkens, that is definitely true. They have said as much at interviews over the years. I have always maintained he was/is the greatest trainer of my lifetime. He has had some nice horses, champion Sky Beauty perhaps being the best, but as you pointed out, he could train average horses or even misfits and get them to run great for a targeted race against the best horses in the last 50+ years. It's too bad he never had a horse good enough to win a Triple Crown race.

I first became aware of Mr. Jerkens when when I was a kid and he beat my beloved Carry Back, (the first horse I rooted for and made me a racing fan for life) and the mighty Kelso in 1962 with Beau Purple. I became a follower of his horses from then on.

I have had the privilege to meet Mr Jerkens a number of times over the years, down in Queens years ago or now while he is up here at Saratoga, including coincidentally last night at Pennels Restaurant a couple of blocks from the track! He is always so gracious, and appreciated my congratulations on his winning the Saratoga Dew Stakes on Monday (and make me some money..had the exacta and triple!). He loves when I tell him I was there back in 1962 at Aqueduct & Belmont to see him knock off Kelso and Carry Back.  

It should be pointed out that most of those great upsets were weight for age races where his hoses did not get any weight allowances. For instance, Onion carried equal weights when he beat Secretariat, and Prove Out, as a 4 yr old, actually spotted Sec SEVEN pounds when he trounced him in the Woodward.  

Allen Jerkens is the last of the great old time trainers...the last connection to the glory days long ago of legends like Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

Again, thank you Steve for sharing your wonderful article about a living legend, especially to your younger readers.

30 Aug 2013 6:11 PM
Brown brother

St Louis Steve,

This is what is great about horse racing and Haskins --they both inspire passion.  A fee retorts inspired by mine and your reply to my post. First, in 03 Frankel won a record number of Grade ones which draw horses from worldwide and some of which were run at NYRA. Second, the Chief rarely shipped and won in 73, while Frankel did it regularly in 03 and showed superior horsemanship keeping his animals at peak performance levels in different surroundings. Third, even triple crown winners Seattle slew and affirmed were beaten twice in their triple crown years, though not by the same trainer, so you got me there, though it should be noted that Frankel WON a td race in 03, which the chief did not in 73 (or any other year for that matter).  Finally, a trainer's ROI is not necessarily a reflection of training ability but rather parimutuel capriciousness. Go back and look at Bobby's 03. Simply the best year by a trainer in the u.s. in the last 40.

30 Aug 2013 9:27 PM
Saratoga AJ

1973 was indeed a great year for the Chief. Allen Jerkens was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame that year, and at 43 was the youngest man to ever do so at that time.

31 Aug 2013 6:03 AM

With Mr. Jerkin’s record and list of accomplishments, he certainly deserves a good crop of youngsters each year irrespective of his age. Why should Todd Pletcher have 200, 2YOs each year and a trainer of Mr. Jerkins caliber remains literally MIA. I guess we are in the high tech and high octane era and he is too old school.

If Allen Jerkins is now considered to be too old, his son Jimmy Jerkins carry his genes and it would be safe to assume that his dad has taught him well and he represents an extension of his father. The younger Jerkins obviously has more energy and can be used as a conduit to extend his father legacy. Come on owners!

Jimmy Jerkins had Quality Road before Todd Pletcher. He used him to defeat the Todd Pletcher trained Dunkirk in the FL Derby. Despite this fact the late Mr. Evans transferred QR to Todd Pletcher. What was Mr. Evans thinking? A horse of that caliber in the hands of Allen Jerkins son and with him a backup consultant, the sky was the limit.

Would Quality Road have had finished a floundering last in the BCC had he been in the hands of the Jerkins?

On the subject of trainers performing phenomenal acts, Woody Steven remains #1 for me. Conquistador Cielo won the Met Mile against older horses in a NTR of 1:33 and returned 6 days later to win the 12F Belmont Stakes.

There are trainers and there are horsemen.

31 Aug 2013 8:01 AM
Saratoga AJ

Brown Brother:

Frankel was indeed a terrific trainer. But if Bobby was still with us, he would also say Jerkens was the best. He admired him as did every other of Jerkens' fellow trainers.

And lets not forget that Bobby had  superior runners at his disposal.

One can only imagine what Allen would have accomplished if had the kind of horses the Frankels and Pletchers, etc. have had.

31 Aug 2013 10:10 AM
Linda in Texas

I love and respect and honor Claimers and especially those who prove their worth in salt and go on to win large. To that comment i say, Rest in Peace Dear Saginaw. You did yourself and New York Fans who followed you and all of us New Yorker Wanna' Be's very proud. "Took a bad step" i loathe those words. And i mention also Sarava's Dancer and Kris Royal who suffered the same fate last weekend in Saratoga in the same race.

This was off topic Steve and thank you for the history of Mr. Jerkens. I bet he won't mind if i talked about the 3 mentioned here. Seems to be the feared part of the sport.


31 Aug 2013 10:25 AM
Linda in Texas

Coldfacts, Quality Road was one i really mentally fought for. His gate episode that time was uncalled for and it never should have happened.

Did not realize Mr. Jerken's was QR's original trainer. Yep, 200 under the umbrella of one trainer from Texas is unfortunate. If a trainer cannot observe all or most of his horses on any given day, he has too many. All of his assistants cannot possibly think the way he does. But with the plethora of horses at 200 plus or minus, no doubt some will win and elevate his status. i am not impressed. I like the trainers who have a hand's on daily attachment and know when they eat a full bucket of vittles. I am old fashioned and i guess old.

So stand up and be counted old timer trainers. You are not forgotten by many of us.

Thanks Steve. Have a good 2 or so more days of Saratoga, and give my regards to her!  


31 Aug 2013 11:02 AM
Bill Two

I'll never forget the 1973 Chesapeake Handicap at Bowie where Prove Out was running a winning race until he quite unexpectedly  ducked into the fence in the upper stretch.  An audible gasp arose from the crowd which had made him the favorite. I cannot remember whether he won that race, but I do remember thinking that the horse was going to have problems if he kept that behavior up.  So what does he do?  Of course, he beats Secretariat in the Woodward in the very next race.  Amazing.

31 Aug 2013 11:40 PM

Allen Jerkens - Unconventional, you bet!

Some time ago, in the fall of about 1967, he entered a 2yo against older horses. I can't remember the conditions which enabled him to do so. The colt was one of his typical front running speedballs that had been setting blistering fractions, and in this race toted less than 100 pounds, about 98. That was the only time I ever encountered such a scenario. Recalling the race, he got off well enough, getting a short lead, about a neck. Then, perhaps, because it couldn't open up a clear lead the mental aspect chimed in and he dropped the anchor after going about a 1/4 mile.

As important as his reputation as a trainer is his status as a human being. I have always heard it said that he is a very decent person, and anyone hoping to break into the racing game in an area he could help should make an effort to contact him. This seemed certainly true in the case of jockeys. No other trainer can come close to matching the number of apprentices he gave a leg up to, including more than a few triple bug boys. I don't think he did it necessarily for the weight allowance. Most of the horses they rode had been racing at weight levels beneath which any shifts were not going to help much, and didn't. I got the impression at times it was the first ride ever in an actual race for some of these jocks. Not many trainers would give a jock his first ride. He's been unconventional in that sense also.

01 Sep 2013 12:33 AM
steve from st louis

B. Brother: There is no question Bobby Frankel is one of the top 10  trainers of the past 60 years (since I've followed the game).

In no particular order I would include Charlie Whittingham, Woody Stephens, D.W. Lukas, Bob Baffert, John Nerud, Ron McAnally,Ben Jones, Jack Van Berg, Bobby and Jerkens. I would say Mandella would be on my also eligible list.

Bobby, as most every one of those named, had a "kiss my ass" attitude except maybe Stephens and Jerkens. I loved Frankel because he did it his way, but his patrons brought him much better stock than Jerkens ever had. Better overall between the two? I'd say Frankel over "The Chief" but if Charles Hatton had Secretariat as his Horse of the Century and Jerkens beat Big Red twice, much less in one year, all of the other big upsets sprung in 1973 by Jerkens are just a bunch of  big cherrys on top of the greatest sundae.

And I wish people would just get Steve's last name correct--  no "s"--Haskin.

01 Sep 2013 1:28 AM
Paula Higgins

ITA with those that think 200 horses under one trainer is not a good thing. Give me old school anytime.

01 Sep 2013 5:30 PM
Steve Haskin

lol, Steve. Thanks. But they've been putting an "s" there my whole life for some reason, so I dont even fight it anymore.

Thanks, everyone, for all the comments.

03 Sep 2013 1:26 PM

Steve nice article here.

Just a side note on Paynter.  He can come in last in every race he runs in for all I care, he is STILL a winner.  For a colt to be at death's door this time last year and to be up and running and healthy is a miracle in itself.  I am assuming Paynter did not care for the wet surface at Saratoga that day.  Are they shipping him back or trying the JCGC at Belmont, where we know he likes the surface?  Have we heard any future plans since the BCC is the ultimate goal? He also did not break well from the gate in the Woodward and then the wet surface to contend with.  I don't think he was comfortable.  I think I would have skipped the Saratoga meet and tried the JCGC with him, but Mr. Baffert knows far more than me and he knows what is best to do. Maybe they needed to get a race in him now and timing and dirt was an issue.  It gave me chills to see Paynter running after what we saw him go through.  I hope Paynter has no recollection of the ordeal and gets to run more races and retire healthy and sound and make us little Paynters one day soon.

If I were Mr. Zayat, I would put Paynter in the Winner's Circle after every one of his next races, regardless if he wins or not, respectfully after the winner of the race gets out of the WC. I would show him see boy you are a winner in every respect of the word.  Keep going Paynter, this fan loves you.  POWERUPPAYNTER!!!

04 Sep 2013 12:33 AM

Steve, we are blessed that you are collating, through your gifted writing, an historical record of yesteryear's racing 'moments.'

You may have written a previous article on Woody Stephens which I may have missed but if not...

Your ethnographic writing places the reader right back to whichever era, simply wonderful.

04 Sep 2013 4:39 AM
Pedigree Ann

Jermon -

"Some time ago, in the fall of about 1967, he entered a 2yo against older horses. I can't remember the conditions which enabled him to do so."

This is not an uncommon occurrence overseas. Many of the mid- and late-season sprints in Europe are written for 2 and up. I believe that Lyric Fantasy was the most recent 2yo winner of the G1 Nunthorpe S at York, in 1993.

In 1937, the 2yo Nearco beat his older stablemate and future G1-type winner Bistolfi in the season-ending Premio Chiusura over 1400m (7f). The Prixes de l'Abbaye de Longchamp and de la Foret are both for 2 and up. The Aussie run a G1 stakes in the fall at the Randwick Easter Carnival called the All-Aged S over 1600m (8f) but I haven't seen a 2yo run in it in a while: it has become too competitive for even the massive weight allowance a 2yo gets to overcome the class of horses like Sunline.

04 Sep 2013 8:25 AM
Bethany Loftis

Alex'sBigFan- No one could have said it better in regards to Paynter! Thank you so much for saying exactly how I feel! You and I both know Paynter is just saving himself for the right one ;) and you are absolutely right. He is a winner in ever aspect of the word!

04 Sep 2013 2:40 PM

Another great article Steve!  Thanks!

Alex'sBigFan - I'm with you about Paynter! I read that Mr Baffert said he did not like the track and that together with the bad break and it was all over for him.  I also read that he will run next in California in the Awesome Again stakes.

04 Sep 2013 5:07 PM
Paula Higgins

Alex'sBigFan I totally agree with you about Paynter. Well said. He is a winner no matter what.

04 Sep 2013 8:29 PM

Throwing this on here:

Last night I am watching an episode of Mr. Ed and it was called "Cherokee Ed."  Ed has to carry a parrot on his back and it had to do with Custer and the Indians.  Ed was in the barn with an Indian headdress on and shooting arrows.  Wilbur comes in and says to him, "Are you out of your Alfalfa pickin' mind?"  

Cute, eh in light of Princess of Sylmar's recent antics!!!!!

Off for some vac for 4 or 5 days!  Happy racing to all.

04 Sep 2013 11:02 PM

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