Jerkens slays his own giant

August, 23, 2014
There's no way of detailing all of the knowledge about horsemanship that Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens imparted to his son Jimmy.

Jimmy, though, mentions first the little things that were vital elements in his becoming a successful trainer.

"Times change and you implement new things, but he taught me the basics," the 55-year-old Jimmy said. "How horses are supposed to look when they're in good shape, how they're supposed to be breathing when they come back from a workout. How they're supposed to act in the stall when you come by at night to feed them. It's all those little things that some people think aren't important but they really are. I learned from my dad how the little things count."

The son surely learned his lessons well and on Saturday he did something that even dad, for all of his storied accomplishments, may not have done.

The Son of the Giant Killer played Giant Killer to his own horse in no less of a setting than the $1.25 million Travers Stakes. Not only did Jerkens finish 1-2 in the Mid-Summer Derby with V.E. Day and Wicked Strong, but it was the lesser regarded of the two, 19-1 shot V.E. Day that beat co-5-2 second choice Wicked Strong by in a stirring, but Jerkens-only stretch duel.

"I wasn't absolutely sure it was V. E. Day because he had so much mud on him until they got a little closer and I saw the silks," Jerkens said. "Then I knew it was him. I said, 'Man, what a feeling. I know I'm going to win the Travers.' I just didn't know with who.

It was weird, but a good weird."

As happy as the moment was for Jerkens, there was a touch of regret because his dad was not there to share it with him. The 85-year-old Allen, a fixture at Saratoga for decades, is currently in Florida after the death of his wife and Jimmy's stepmother, Elisabeth, earlier this month.

"Everyone here at Saratoga misses him, not just me," said Jimmy, who accepted a ceremonial red jacket on his father's behalf the day before Travers when a bronze plaque honoring Allen was unveiled. "He was such a mainstay here for years. Yesterday I got teary-eyed watching [one of his stakes wins] during the ceremony honoring him.

"He watched [the Travers] on television with my sister at home and I'm sure he was elated."

The master of the game that he is, Allen even offered sage advice to his son in the days leading up to the race.

"He told me, 'I think V.E. Day will come running,' and he really did," Jimmy said.

V.E. Day certainly did as he rallied from seventh and nailed his stablemate in the final stride of the mile-and-a-quarter Travers and reduce the contenders for the 3-year-old championship to California Chrome and Shared Belief, who will run in Sunday's Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Going into the Mid-Summer Derby, Wicked Strong, who won the Jim Dandy earlier in the meet and the Wood Memorial earlier in the year, Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, and runaway Haskell winner Bayern were also in that discussion.

The Travers ended that talk for them.

The main storyline in the Travers involved whether Bayern was a true superstar after his front-running 7 ¼-length win in the Haskell. The mile-and-a-quarter Grade 1 stakes at the Spa would be an acid test for him, proving whether he was capable of sustaining his speed over a classic distance of ground.

As the field of 10 broke from the gate, that concern about Bayern's speed came to the fore in the run to the first turn. Tonalist not only pressed the pace of Bayern in the early stages, he grabbed a momentary lead before relinquishing it and tracking the son of Offlee Wild through fractions of 47.31 seconds and 1:11.27.

"We were hoping to steal it, but the secret was out." said Bayern's trainer, Bob Baffert. Approaching the quarter pole, Bayern, the 2-1 favorite, was exposed as a miler and started his retreat to last in the field of 10.

"He broke well and was in a good position. But when he turned for home, he was out of horse," Baffert said. "The Haskell might have taken something out of him."

Tonalist made a bid for the lead, but Wicked Strong, who was third on the backstretch, quickly drew alongside of him.

By the eighth pole, Wicked Strong had edged clear of a tiring Tonalist -- who wound up third -- to grab what seemed to be a safe length and a half lead -- but only for his trainer, who was about to collect his second Travers (joining Afleet Express in 2010).

Magalen Bryant's V.E Day, who prepped for the Travers by winning the Curlin at the Spa, mounted a strong rally under Javier Castellano and drew even with his Centennial Farms stablemate in the last stride as they hit the wire in 2:02.93 for the 10 furlongs.

The final bob then went to the longshot trained by The Son Giant of the Killer, who upended his own Goliath with an unheralded David in a remarkable turn of events -- even for a Jerkens.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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