The Santa Anita Handicap might not be able to compete with today's mega-events in terms of purse or placement on the calendar. However, when it comes to making history, it always delivers, and last Saturday's running was no different.
The name Jerkens is attached to just about every major race for older horses you can name, either through Jimmy or his Hall of Fame father, Allen. The list of big ones racked up by Allen Jerkens is too long to list without a lunch break, so let's just say he beat Secretariat in the Whitney and the Woodward, Buckpasser in the Brooklyn, and Kelso in the Suburban, the Widener, and the Man o' War, and leave it there for now.
Jimmy was his father's assistant until he went out on his own 20 years ago. He is 57, and his tally is mounting, with two Brooklyns, two Suburbans, a Met Mile, a Woodward, and a pair of Breeders' Cup events -- the Mile and the Dirt Mile.
And now the Santa Anita Handicap with Frank Stronach's Shaman Ghost, who beat local star Midnight Storm by three-quarters of a length.
As the man who owns the racetrack, Stronach himself already had stamped his name on the Handicap with two-time winner Milwaukee Brew. The name Jerkens, though, has been missing from not only the Santa Anita Handicap but also every other race of significance on the California calendar, dating back to the days when Allen would ship West once in a while, stable his horses with Buster Millerick, and play cut-throat touch football on dark days with the gang of ruffians assembled by Bruce and Gary Headley.
To be fair, Jimmy hasn't tried that often. Effinex, covered with hives, ran third in the 2016 Santa Anita Handicap, while Shaman Ghost went off his feed last fall and was scratched from the Breeders' Cup Classic. Allen, on the other hand, had half a century to get it right in California and came up empty, despite trying with such world-class athletes as Sensitive Prince, Sky Beauty, and Devil His Due.
Jimmy Jerkens was walking alone back to the Santa Anita stables to check on Shaman Ghost late Saturday afternoon -- tie shed, under the radar. There is no Jerkens entourage.
Once one person noticed him, though, another would chime in with congratulations as Jerkens let a weary smile bubble up through the memories of his father, who died on March 18, 2015, at 85.
"I was glad to see him get away from those two horses outside him at the quarter pole," Jerkens said, replaying a key moment in the race. "Thankfully, they couldn't go on, and he did.
"The race means a lot," Jerkens added. "And winning here means a lot. It's very gratifying."
There appeared to be history in the making earlier on Saturday as Mastery won the San Felipe Stakes by 6 3/4 lengths under Mike Smith to separate himself from the best of the West's 3-year-olds. The whoops and hollers could be heard 2,500 miles away at his Kentucky birthplace, where Arthur Hancock III and his family had every right to believe that Mastery might be joining Gato Del Sol and Sunday Silence as Kentucky Derby winners bred at their Stone Farm.
"We were high-fiving and carrying on, then we saw that Mike was off the horse and he was unsaddled," Hancock said a few days later. "Thank goodness for Mike, but it was tough as hell to see happen."
Mastery, a son of Candy Ride unbeaten in four starts, suffered a condylar fracture to his left fore ankle and underwent surgery two days later. The early prognosis is for a healthy recovery, and while there has been no announcement from owner Everett Dobson regarding Mastery's immediate future, he's got stallion written all over him.
Mastery is out of Steady Course, a daughter of the blazing-fast Old Trieste and the Storm Cat mare Steady Cat.
"When you look at stallions, you always look at the bottom side, and he's from the family of Miswaki," Hancock said, referring to the Mr. Prospector stallion who sired winners of the Arc de Triomphe, Japan Cup, and Breeders' Cup Classic. "It's actually one of my father's old female families going back to Rose Bower, a daughter of Princequillo."
His father was Arthur Hancock Jr., better known as "Bull."
Rose Bower, a foal of 1958, won the Matron Stakes in New York with trainer Mack Miller. Cabin, her son by Bagdad, finished third in the 1973 Santa Anita Handicap at odds of 118-1.
"Cabin was the first stallion I ever stood, for $500," Hancock said. "Through him, I got to know Leone Peters, and we came up with Gato Del Sol and bred Belmont winner Risen Star."
As a brilliant flash in the pan, Mastery could join a list that includes Raise a Native, Danzig, and Hoist the Flag as Thoroughbreds whose brief racing careers were embellished as influential stallions. One way or another, Hancock knows it could have been worse.
"We had a real nice colt trained by Charlie Whittingham named Effect, by Halo, who broke down the morning of entries for the 1997 Santa Anita Derby," Hancock said. "We lost him, and I was sick to my stomach for days.
"It hit Charlie hard, too," Hancock added. "But I'll never forget what he always said: 'In this game, you've got to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.'"