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Hall of Fame Legend Jerkens Back at Gulfstream
It was 1947 when trainer Allen Jerkens first arrived at Gulfstream Park.
In his late teens at the time, Jerkens started rubbing horses and learning his craft at Gulfstream before taking out his trainer's license and winning his first race in 1950 in New York.
The storied horseman, now 83-years-old, is once again back in Barn 14 at Gulfstream for the 2013 season. While he doesn’t train from his long familiar seat aboard a stable pony these days, Jerkens keeps the same schedule as he has for more than 60 years, watching his horses on the track from the three-eighths pole viewing stand.
According to Jerkens, Gulfstream and Hallandale Beach have come a long way since he first stepped foot in the area 65 years ago.
“I first came here in '47 when they used to rotate the early and late season dates between here and old Tropical Park (Hialeah in the middle)," said the noted horsemen known widely as "The Chief," who will saddle his Grade I winner Emma's Encore in Saturday's $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Fillies & Mares Sprint.
"There wasn’t much of anything around here. They would take horses to exercise on the beach. The bridge (over inter-coastal) was an old wooden thing that would swing open and closed. There was only one building on Hallandale Beach Boulevard between here and the beach.”
Jerkens career has been one of the most remarkable in racing. Not only is he referred to as "The Chief," but he's been dubbed by some journalists as the ‘The Giant Killer’ following the memorable upset victories posted over several decades, beginning with Beau Purple defeating Kelso three times, Handsome Boy’s victory over Buckpasser in the ‘60s, and Onion and Prove Out’s separate victories over Triple Crown legend Secretariat in 1973.
Each of those Jerkens stars carried the famous blue and orange colors of Wall Street legend Jack Dreyfus’ Hobeau Farm, Jerkens’ longtime client and friend.
In 1975, Jerkens became the youngest trainer elected to the Hall of Fame at age 45 and has continued to add to his virtually un-paralleled record of accomplishment to this day after developing some 160 stakes winners. His most notable victories at Gulfstream include Sensitive Prince and Devil His Due in the Gulfstream Park Handicaps of 1979 and 1993, respectively. But the "The Chief" has had a number of other successes at Gulfstream.
In 1978 Jerkens sent out the 3-year-old Sensitive Prince to win the Hutcheson Stakes (G2) and Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream, remaining undefeated at the time.
"He loved the race track and won all four of his starts here," recalled Jerkens of the son of Majestic Prince who won 14 of 20 career starts. "We moved the stable over here the next year when he won the Gulfstream Park Handicap going a mile-and-a-quarter as a 4-year-old.”
A more recent Jerkens’ star that showed a particular fondness for the Gulfstream main track was Joseph V. Shields, Jr.’s top sprint filly Any Limit. A homebred daughter of Limit Out, Any Limit won the First Lady Stakes (G3) and Hurricane Bertie Stakes (G3) in 2007 and the latter again 2009. She also finished second in the 2007 Shirley Jones Breeders’ Cup Handicap (G2) and 2009 edition (name changed to Inside Information).
Another notable Shields homebred developed by Jerkens wintered at Gulfstream early in the 1998 season and made history later that year. Wagon Limit finished fourth in the Donn Handicap (G1) and fifth in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G1), but went on to conclude his campaign that fall at Belmont Park winning Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at odds of 38-to-1 over Skip Away and Gentlemen.
For Jerkens, the hits seem to keep coming with his latest star being Emma's Encore, winner of the $300,000 Prioress Stakes (G1) last summer at Saratoga.
“She was a pleasant surprise,” said Jerkens. “It was nice that so many people came up to the winners’ circle to congratulate us after the race."
A $2,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, Emma’s Encore came to Jerkens last winter at Gulfstream as a maiden after three starts as a 2-year-old at Hoosier Park, Kentucky Downs and Keeneland. She made four starts at the Gulfstream meet, beginning with a third, then two wins and a well-beaten eighth in the Gulfstream Oaks (G2) while trying a distance for the first and only time in her career thus far.
Turned back to sprints in New York, she posted an upset win at 39-1 in the Victory Ride Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park in early July before a hard-fought nose victory in the Prioress. In two more starts last season she finished sixth after a ‘bobble and bump’ at the start of the Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2) at Belmont in September and eighth last out in the TCA Stakes (G2) on Polytrack at Keeneland on Oct. 6.
You see, while Jerkens isn't riding out on the track to watch his horses train these mornings at Gulfstream, “The Chief” is at the barn every morning and in the viewing stand still doing what he has so well for some seven decades, which is to see things in horses that few others can and serve as an inspiration to those lucky enough to spend time in his company.