A Victory for the Family

Saturday’s Travers Stakes (gr. I) was not just about V.E. Day, but also V.J. Day. We had the Victory in Europe tie-in and the Victory for Jerkens tie-in.

The Travers was also about family and the perpetuation of family history through the generations. Only in the Sport of Kings can images and memories reappear after a half century, untouched by time.

It was in 1958 that a 29-year-old trainer made a name for himself by claiming a horse named Admiral Vee for $7,500 and winning major stakes with him, including the prestigious Saratoga Handicap. In many ways, it was Admiral Vee that launched the legendary career of Allen Jerkens.

In 2014, the 85-year-old Jerkens was forced to miss the Saratoga meet for the first time in many decades, remaining in Florida to take care of his ailing wife, Liz, who passed away in early August. On Aug. 23, he watched from his home with his daughter Julie and her husband and Liz’s two sons as his son Jimmy, not only became only the second trainer in history to saddle the first- and second-place finishers of the historic Travers Stakes (gr. I), he did it from the same Barn 75 on the Oklahoma training track that his father was stabled in when he sent out Admiral Vee to win the Saratoga Handicap 56 years earlier.

Perhaps that was one of the reasons the younger Jerkens stood on the track following V.E. Day’s Travers victory trying hard to restrain the trembling of his hands and the quaver in his voice. He was attempting to soak in the amazing feat he had just accomplished, while trying to cope with the heartbreaking nose defeat of his big horse from the Triple Crown trail, Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) winner Wicked Strong.

It was the younger Jerkens’ second Travers victory, both by a nose, having narrowly won the 2010 edition with Afleet Express.

There have been few Travers victories more popular than Jerkens’ one-two finish, as he put a new twist to his father’s reputation as “The Giant Killer.” Here, one of the giants he slew with his 19-1 shot was his own.

One of the reasons this victory was so popular is that Jerkens in 2009 had his stable pretty much stripped clean when his main client, Edward Evans took away all his horses, including the brilliant Quality Road. Another of his longtime clients also removed their horses from Jerkens’ barn, leaving his stable depleted. Afleet Express' Travers score gave him a big lift, but that was followed by three lean years, during which he won a single listed stakes in 2011 and did not have a stakes winner in 2012 and 2013.

No one can appreciate Jerkens’ struggle to get back to the top more than his wife Shirley, who is also his assistant and who gallops V.E. Day.

“I feel so amazing for Jimmy and Allen,” she said. “You can’t even dream up something like this. You don’t feel like this is ever going to happen. Jimmy is such a warrior. He fought hard through the low times. And now it’s a great time. You just have to keep going. That’s what he does.”

In Florida, things were just settling down a bit in the Allen Jerkens home. “I guess there’s a little excitement up there,” the elder Jerkens said. “Oh, God, we were going crazy down here. That’s one great thing about this game. Every once in a while you get a pleasant surprise. There were a couple of years when Jimmy couldn’t win a race. I’m proud of him, but the bottom line is, you have to get the horses.”

Allen was happy that Jimmy has been able to accomplish something he never did – win the Travers. “I certainly had my chances,” he said.

But like with all trainers, there isn’t much time to savor the victories. As Allen pointed out, “He’s got three or four in tomorrow.”

After last year’s Remsen Stakes (gr. II), all eyes in the Jerkens barn were on Centennial Farm’s Wicked Strong, who finished a strong third. The son of Hard Spun added the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and Jim Dandy and was fourth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

No one but Jerkens was aware that bubbling just under the surface was an up-and-comer named V.E. Day, owned by Magalen Ohrstrom Bryant. The son of English Channel – California Sunset, by Deputy Minister was late coming around after testing Jerkens’ patience as a 2-year-old.

“He had bad stomach problems as a 2-year-old,” Jerkens said. “They loved him when they sent him to me, but I couldn’t get him to do any good. He had constant diarrhea, and he’d eat everything in sight and wouldn’t gain a pound. We gave him a feed supplement called Succeed that puts the good bacteria back in the stomach. After that, he started coming around. Then one morning this year in Florida, he breezed and the rider pulled him up after the work. He said he was dead lame, and I thought he broke down. He was limping and we had to walk him home; we thought he had cracked a cannon bone or something. We checked him out and we couldn’t find anything. To this day we never found out what it was. He’s been sound as a dollar ever since.”

Jerkens, like everyone else, misses his father, especially at Saratoga, where “The Chief,” of course, scored perhaps his most memorable victory, upsetting Secretariat with Onion in the 1973 Whitney Handicap (gr. I).

“Everybody misses him, not just me,” Jerkens said. “He’s been such a mainstay here for years and I'm glad I'm stabled over in Oklahoma because every time I go over to the main track side (where Allen had his horses for many years) I start thinking about him. Yesterday I got a little weepy watching that infield show (during the “Red Jacket” ceremony in the winner’s circle) and I had to go up to the microphone 30 seconds later and I could barely talk.

“My father was always partial to a horse like (V.E. Day) -- a big, strong colt that looks like he wants to go all day. That's his favorite horse, since he started training. He just eats those kinds of horses up. From what my dad tells me, he's a little bit of a throw-back to the horses from years ago. He keeps on eating and keeps on feeling good and loves to train. You just don't see horses like that anymore.”

V.E. Day, bred in Kentucky by Bluegrass Hall, broke his maiden on May 10 at Belmont, then followed that up with an allowance score on the grass before winning the 1 1/8-mile Curlin Stakes at Saratoga in a three-horse photo.

In the Travers, V.E. Day saved ground in seventh under Javier Castellano, as Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner Bayern set the pace, tracked closely by Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Tonalist and Wicked Strong. The three favorites remained in the same position most of the way through fractions of :23.74, :47.31, and 1:11.27. Wicked Strong put Bayern and Tonalist away, surging to the front and opening a 1 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole. The only horse closing was stablemate V.E. Day, who cut into Wicked Strong’s lead with every stride.

“I wasn't absolutely sure it was V. E. Day -- he had so much mud on him -- until he got closer and I saw the silks, and I could see that Sure-Win (bridle) that he wears,” Jerkens said. “Then I knew it was him and I thought, ‘Man, what a feeling, I’m going to win a Travers. I just don't know with who.’”

V.E. Day kept coming and just got up at the wire to nose out Wicked Strong. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to Tonalist in third, with Kid Cruz closing well to be fourth. The final time for the 1 1/4 miles was 2:02.93.

No one knew much about Mrs. Bryant, who remained in a wheel chair and never said a word during the post-race press conference, as she was represented by her U.S. racing manager Cynthia Curtis, who did all the talking for her and who picked V.E. Day out of the Ocala Breeders Sales Company 2-year-olds in training sale for $135,000.

But back in the Trustees Room, it was apparent why the 85-year-old Mrs. Bryant wasn’t speaking. As she sat and watched the replay, a constant stream of tears rolled down her cheek, and it never subsided the entire time she was there, even when she began talking about her own family’s history in the sport. Not only does Mrs. Bryant own V.E. Day, she also has a small piece of Wicked Strong.

It was Mrs. Bryant’s family, her father George Ohrstrom Sr. and especially her brother George Ohrstrom Jr., who were involved heavily in racing, campaigning mainly in France, where her brother, who raced in the U.S. under the name Whitewood Stable, owned the top-class filly Comtesse de Loir, who was beaten a head by Allez France in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fra-I) and a half-length by Snow Knight in the Canadian International (Gr. IT). Mrs. Bryant bred the 2-year-old French champion Pennecamp, who went on to win the 2,000 Guineas (Eng-I) before getting injured at Tattenham Corner in the Epsom Derby (Eng-I) and eventually becoming a fairly successful broodmare sire and sire of steeplechase horses.

Mrs. Bryant, who is from Middleburg, Va., has continued to operate the family stable and has 120 horses in the U.S. and 150 in France.

“My father bought a yearling in France for $30,000, which was the most expensive yearling ever at the time in France,” Mrs. Bryant said. “His name was Royaumont. Daddy died and we kept him, and he ran fourth in the Epsom Derby. I sold stock to buy my ticket to England to see him run.”

Mrs. Bryant says she wishes she could still ride, and appreciated Shirley Jerkens coming over and telling her that she galloped V.E. Day and described him as a “gentle giant.” Shirley then proceeded to visually describe exactly what it’s like galloping the colt.

When reminded that you’re never too old to achieve great things in this sport and that California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, was 77 before he had a horse like this, Mrs. Bryant said, “Heck, that’s a baby. I’m 85 and I don’t give a damn anymore what anybody thinks. I still have lots to do. And today was the first goal.”

Mrs. Bryant owns a condominium in Deauville and goes there three or four times a year.

“The World Equestrian Games are going on, so I’ve invited more people to come visit me than I have beds,” she said. “If you know anyone who wants to go there and my condo is empty, they’re welcome to. But there is one requirement. They must go to the Normandy beaches.”

Which brings us to the name V.E. Day, who got his name through his sire English Channel. Mrs. Bryant is a major supporter of the veterans and the organization Wounded Warriors.

“She’s involved in a big deal regarding her hyperbaric chamber right now in a project for the Wounded Warriors,” Cynthia Curtis said. “One of the guys pushing her around in her wheelchair is her future grandson-in-law and he’s a veteran from Iraq who suffered a head injury.”

The following morning, it was business as usual at the Jerkens barn. Don Little Jr., president of Centennial Farms, was still attempting to deal with the tough defeat of Wicked Strong.

“I kidded with Jimmy last night, but we both gave each other a big hug,” Little said. “I told him, ‘Your dad would be proud.’ We didn’t quite win it, but this horse has brought us back. He’s danced every dance. I said after the Curlin if there’s any horse that’s going to close its going to be (V.E. Day).”

Cynthia Curtis then showed up carrying a couple of boxes of donuts for the barn and attempted to take some of the sting of defeat away by telling Little, “(Mrs. Bryant) was in tears for an hour. I’m sorry for Wicked Strong, but let me tell you, if that woman died tomorrow, that was the highlight of her life. She had the best day yesterday.”

Later in the morning, Curtis received congratulations from one of their trainers, Jonathan Sheppard, who said of Mrs. Bryant, “She deserved it. She’s supported the game and never complained and paid her dues. I think it’s wonderful.”

Curtis said of Mrs. Bryant, “She was that happy. She loves this sport. She just lives for these horses. She comes to the farm and has them pull out the babies. She knows them all and all their pedigrees. She just loves it and becomes emotionally attached to the horses.”

Perhaps Jimmy Jerkens summed up this extraordinary day best when he said immediately after the race while waiting for V.E. Day to return, “It’s unbelievable. I feel bad for Wicked Strong; he ran his heart out. But I’ll take it. It was like a dream. That never happens…but it did.”


22 Comments

Leave a Comment:

JunWong

Steve,this a lovely article as only you could write.You

have a racing fan best pair of eyes and ears.We are never there physically,but if you are there-then racing fans are there too,because you will describe every bit of detail that matters. I am a big H Allen Jerkens fan for many years.I am also a big fan of his son Jimmy Jerkens- now Mr Jimmy TRAVERS. How sweet it must be for Jimmy to have finished 1-2 in a huge race as the Travers.His wife Shirley deserves lots of credits too,because as the saying goes behind every successful man there is a good Woman. Steve,please continue to be our eyes and ears in Horse Racing.

25 Aug 2014 9:50 PM
Coldfacts

I recalled when Quality Road was removed from the keep and care of Jimmy Jerkens. It was baffling then and even now. How could any well thinking owner transfer a horse from a victorious trainer to the one that was the vanquished in a track record setting race?  It appears Mr. Evans wanted a world record from Quality Road and regarded his NTR a failure on the part of his trainer.

Quality Road was a majestic looking and very fast horse that set three NTRs. Under the high octane program of Mr. Pletcher the magnificent specimen of a race horse could not break 1:50 for 9F in its penultimate start and finished a floundering last in its final. It was sad to see such a magnificent and talented animal concluded its racing career on such a low.  Mr. Evans who passed approximately 8 weeks later must have regretted his decision.

In August of 2013 the moderator dedicated a blog to Jimmy Jerkens’ dad titled ‘Allen Jerkens and the greatest year ever.’ Below is an extract from a submission I made to said blog.

“If Allen Jerkens is now considered to be too old, his son Jimmy Jerkens carries 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 Jerkens obviously has more energy and can be used as a conduit to extend his father legacy. Come on owners!”

Jimmy Jerkens was mentored by one of the best and his success is not surprising. After selecting Wicked Strong to win the Wood Memorial, I proposed that after his victory the headline should read ‘Giant Killer Jnr Strikes in The Wood.’ Sadly the caption was not adopted. It would have been a great headline as it would have saluted Jimmy Jerkens directly and indirectly acknowledging the great trainer who mentored him.

I selected V E Day to win the Travers but would not be  brazen enough to again propose a caption for his victory. Jimmy Jerkins must have recognized how tough and versatile this colt was after he came to hand.

He made 2 starts over 9F in July ahead of a 10F race scheduled approximately 30 days later. How many trainers would undertake such a racing schedule ahead of a major G1 race against some of the best 3YOs in the country? This is a testament to the talent of Jimmy Jerkins.

While the focus will be on California Chrome and Shared Belief in the last third of the year, it should not be ignored that V E Day is the new colt on the block and he is trained by the son of a giant killer.

25 Aug 2014 10:04 PM
Paula Higgins

Another wonderful story from the Master Storyteller. V.E.Day certainly is an impressive horse. I am happy for both Allen and Jimmy Jerkens, who are very deserving of the 1st and 2nd place honors. I love the name of this horse for obvious reasons and I am happy for Mrs. Bryant as well. Clearly, a very nice woman. You really give these races/horses context Steve by telling us about the story behind the owners as well as the trainers. One last thing, my sincere condolences on the loss of Mrs. Jerkens to both father and son and all their family. I am glad for this one bright spot amidst their loss.

25 Aug 2014 10:53 PM
dueywag

Thank you for the great article.  What a beautiful backstory about Mrs. Bryant.  Congratulations to all the connections!

26 Aug 2014 6:35 AM
Johnny

Great article Steve glad you did not offend anyone as of yet..

Sorry could not resist..

Coldfacts please do not injure yourself by patting yourself on the back..

26 Aug 2014 8:44 AM
Bill Two

Very well told, Steve.  Isn't it amazing how fate can turn on a dime?  I'm happy for Jimmy and Allen.  They can stand some good news.

26 Aug 2014 10:11 AM
txhorsefan

Again, Steve...you did it again.  A story so special it made my eyes leak.  Thank you so much for sharing the background of the horses as well as the people - I am forever grateful for your words and talent.  Thanks!

26 Aug 2014 11:03 AM
Coldfacts

Johnny,

I know my capabilities and have no need to engage in self-glorification.

Do us a favor and provide some critical analysis before a race instead of submitting useless  comments.

Remaining SOS is optional!

26 Aug 2014 11:11 AM
Deltalady

This is the best illustration of all that the sport of horse racing has to offer. What a comeback for Jimmy Jerkens, what a wonderful gift for his dad to watch his son achieve the highest pinnacle of success. And, what an inspiration is the owner of V E Day!  So many happy stories, even in defeat, Wicked Strong brought inspiration and demonstrated the epitome of what it means to do your best, and even in coming up short, he is still a winner to all who have rooted for him. So happy for Jimmy, and so very happy for all the connections of these two special horses. Thanks for the heart-felt telling of these wonderful stories, Steve.  No one does this better than you.

26 Aug 2014 11:54 AM
Dr Drunkinbum

Johnny

   I think CF pulled a hammy.

Steve

   I'm really going to miss you and "And They're Off."  One of the greatest shows of all time along with The Honeymooners, Leave it To Beaver, Andy Griffith, Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, X-Files, The Fugitive, and Seinfeld. Many of the great shows did last around five years but "And They're Off" should have been another Gunsmoke, around forever. You have a great camera presence with brilliant insight and humor so I hope you're an occasional guest on Lenny's new dive bar or high class joint, whatever it turns out to be (nothing wrong with a dive bar by the way).

26 Aug 2014 12:41 PM
hopalong

Nice story from Steve, as one would expect. As traditional as his subjects. Met him last Friday at Barn 75, with the Little family and our Centennial Group from Plano. Onward and upward with this new crop of horses, both the 3 year olds, and the 2 year olds. Colts from Tapit, Tiznow and Dynaformer's last crop. Do you think they'll be an English Channel in 2015?

26 Aug 2014 1:26 PM
JohnCLiNY

You are invaluable, Steve. There are hundreds of articles about the Travers and its participants, but none is even remotely as fascinating, eloquent, insightful, and original as yours. Nobody else provides as interesting and historically informed perspective as you do. The Jerkens story is a great American tale better than the most thrilling fiction.  Also, I'm now in love with Mrs. Bryant. Thanks so much for your great work, Steve.

26 Aug 2014 3:06 PM
Coldfacts

Dr Drunkinbum

"I think CF pulled a hammy"

HAMMY: Marked by exaggerated and usually self-conscious theatricality.

Why am I not surprised that you have endorsed Johnny's disparaging comments and went further to put into what you perceived to the context of my submission.

It is unfortunate that neither of you were gracious enough to congratulate me for a job well done as other have. However, you both dedicated time to highlight your syndical sides.

Below is a submission by the contributor who has in the past directed extremely critical and unfaltering comment toward me:

Rusty Weisner:

"Coldfacts,

I love your 12:41 "Eliminated!" post.  More of this stuff, please.  Right on the money with this, this, this and and this:"

On Wicked Strong:

"Being upfront with Bayern will be a significantly different experience than the one with MSW winner Legend. This will compromise his chances."

On Bayern:

Appears to be the superior speed in the field but his speed has to be perfectly managed for him to win 10F against top G1 routers. He has never won a race with 126lbs and will carry 8Lbs more than he carried in the Haskell going 1F longer against top class routers."

On Kid Cruz:

"I cannot think of a running strategy that could be employed to get him a victory. If he is close to the pace he will not have his explosive finishing kick. If he drops back he will have too much do against the high cruisers that can kick in the stretch."

On Mr. Speaker:

"He is a classy turf colt that should be kept where he excels."

Now THAT is handicapping.

Even one of my fiercest critic had the decency to give acknowledgement to a job well done.

I recommend you view same a lesson in social graces.

26 Aug 2014 3:24 PM
Susan from VA

A simply wonderful article.  And I, too, miss "And They're Off."

26 Aug 2014 3:49 PM
Steve Haskin

JohnCLiNY, thanks very much for the kind words. That's very nice of you to say. And thanks to everyone and for your kind sentiments regarding And They're Off. It was a fun ride and I'm going to miss bantering with Lenny. Maybe I'll pop into "Lenny's Place" on occasion with help on a Top 10.

26 Aug 2014 4:37 PM
Johnny

Geez Coldfacts how far do you need to go to prove yourself? You hit a race CONGRATS!!

How did you do in the Derby with Wicked Strong?

Were was that write up?

When you are right you really go out of your way to spread those peacock feathers of yours. I'm happy for you..

Now go ice your hammy..

26 Aug 2014 5:55 PM
Eric Rickard

Great Story. Loved the win. However, I don't feel that Bayern was pressured that much. No excuse for him. V E is one to watch. Hope to see you, Mr. Haskins this weekend at the Spa.

26 Aug 2014 7:08 PM
Paula Higgins

Coldfacts, I was very impressed with your VE Day pick. He was not anyone else's radar, so credit is due to you. Good call. I also could not agree more with your comments about Quality Road, Mr. Jerkens and Mr. Pletcher. A shame he was moved. I don't know how much further he would have gone with Mr. Jerkens, but I would bet money he would have had a better outcome.

26 Aug 2014 8:27 PM
BelmontBarb

Staples in racing - the Jerkens' leave a remarkable foot-print in racing and are the example of what it takes to hold a place in the tough and competitive world of racing.  One must always be ready and able and never have a loss of confidence in order to meet the ups and downs and just keep on without losing focus of that finish line - certainly the Jerkens' Legacy and spirit of this fine family of horsemen has touched all of us through the Travers along with the a vibrant Mrs. Bryant whom without a doubt represents a major force in racing and a legacy of her own.  

Steve ~ a thoroughly tenderly written Travers report and article written by a very talented and spirited writer ~ inspiring as always!

26 Aug 2014 9:49 PM
trackjack

Great wrap-up Steve, thanks.  

27 Aug 2014 10:11 AM
hopalong

This is so well done, it's certainly a candidate for an Eclipse Award.

28 Aug 2014 10:23 AM
slee

Mrs. Bryant reminds me of a woman my grandmother used to work for.  The first time we ever met "Mrs. E." was about 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning.  She was RE-filling an Old-Fashioned glass with ice and a couple of fingers of Jack Daniels.  She offered my father one and he glanced at his watch and declined.  She smiled and said, "yes, it is a little early.  You know," she added, while picking up a cigarette, "I saw my doctor this week for my 87th birthday checkup.  And he told me to stop drinking and smoking or I'd end up in an early grave."  She pulled on the cigarette.  "I told him that was no longer possible."

She'd been widowed near the end of WWII and raised 4 children essentially alone while establishing and running a successful business.  She turned down several offers of marriage, saying she didn't need them, then remarried again around age 60 because she found somebody who made her laugh.  He died when she was 75, and she soldiered on until age 94.

That's quite a generation, like her horse V.E. Day -- strong, loves to work, and will go all day!

28 Aug 2014 10:41 AM

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