Jack Christopher Bounces Back in G1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial

August 27, 2022

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Trainer Chad Brown’s brilliant 3-year-old Jack Christopher got back to his winning ways on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, where he took the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial by 1 1/4 lengths to remain unbeaten around one turn.

A chestnut son of Munnings, Jack Christopher began his career with four straight victories, including wins in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun and Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park, before facing his first two-turn test last out in the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Haskell on July 23 at Monmouth Park. While the $135,000 yearling purchase ran valiantly that day after pressing a fast early pace, he found the distance to be a bit too far and faded to finish third, beaten two lengths by Grade 1 Runhappy Travers hopeful Cyberknife.

The Allen Jerkens, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomores, represented a return to the comfort zone of Jack Christopher, who registered a Beyer Speed Figure of 107 at the same distance in the Woody Stephens earlier this year on the Belmont Stakes undercard. His victory on Saturday was a bit more workmanlike than that 10-length romp, but it showcased his immense talent and provided his owners with another unforgettable outing.

“To win a Grade 1 at Saratoga is a dream come true,” said Jim Bakke, who co-owns Jack Christopher with Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant. “It’s obviously a big race and the horse ran really awesome. He really did. I have to give kudos to Jose [Ortiz] and Chad Brown, and Bradley Weisbord and Liz Crow, who selected him at the auction. A total team effort and I can’t be more happy. It’s a thrill of a lifetime for me. I’ve been in this game for 25 years and never had a Grade 1 winner, so this is really special.

Breaking from post 5 as the 1-2 favorite with Jose Ortiz in the irons, Jack Christopher got away best of the field of eight but conceded the early lead to Conagher, who dashed through at the rail under Joe Rocco, Jr. to take control in the opening furlong and set a swift pace of 22.18 seconds for the opening quarter-mile over the fast main track.

With Jack Christopher perched just to his outside in second, Conagher got no breathers in the middle portion of the race as the half went in an eye-catching 44.53, considerably faster than the pace set by Jackie’s Warrior earlier on the card in the Grade 1 Forego. As the rapid pace took its toll on Conagher, who fizzled out a bit as the field turned for home, Jack Christopher bounded into the stretch looking like an odds-on favorite should, still with enough left in the tank to hold off a late charge from Grade 1 winner Gunite to prevail in a final time of 1:21.15.

“Four weeks [rest] and he ran huge,” said Ortiz. “He gave me everything he had and a very good race. Honestly, though he was a little offbeat down the backside but at the three-eighths pole he picked up little by little and I knew when I got next to the one-horse [Conagher], I knew I got him. From then on he just kept going the same pace. I knew if he didn’t stop, he was going to run them off their feet because he was running the whole way. Seven [furlongs] is a tricky distance. I’d rather go a mile but seven-eighths is tricky. The pace is a little bit faster and you have to run the whole way there and he did.”

The win marked Jack Christopher’s fifth from six career starts, with earnings now in excess of $1.2 million. He returned $3.10 on a $2 win wager as the overwhelming favorite. Jack Christopher was bred in Kentucky by Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate. 

“Exiting the Haskell, that was going to be our plan if he didn’t win and cut him back to this prestigious race here,” said Brown. “I’m just so proud of the horse. He’s been a very consistent horse. He’s never disappointed us in a workout or a race. Jose [Ortiz] rode another fantastic race on him. He broke sharp and used good judgment to rate him just a touch. Every pole, he was in control of the race. I’m so proud of both Jose and the horse.”

Though he was forced to settle for runner-up honors, Gunite cemented his status as a Saratoga aficionado in the Allen Jerkens. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds, Gunite won last year’s Grade 1 Hopeful at the Spa, and was coming off a career-best win in the Grade 2 Amsterdam over the same track.

“My horse broke alertly. We knew there was going to be a little bit of speed to our inside and we didn’t want to get into a speed duel up front, so we just decided to let him relax a little bit,” said Tyler Gaffalione, jockey aboard Gunite. “He just kept taking a run at that colt. That’s a very talented colt, the winner, and my horse never gave it up. It was a big effort. All the credit to Steve and his team for having him ready today.”

Photo by Joe Labozzetta

In third, Runninsonofagun continued his upward trajectory for trainer John Toscano, Jr. A savvy $40,000 claim by Toscano over the winter at Aqueduct Racetrack, the son of Gun Runner had already banked $145,050 in 2022, including a third-place finish in the Amsterdam, before sneaking through the rail into the stretch to nab a piece of the Allen Jerkens.

“The trainer had him ready to go in this race,” said Runninsonofagun’s rider Kendrick Carmouche. “I thought last time he ran very well against these horses. Coming back to a Grade 1, we put blinkers on him and he’s been more aggressive and more forward with us. I think our horse is going to get better with more time and the future will be good for him.”

The pacesetting Conagher was able to hold on to fourth and was followed home by Accretive, Happy Jack, Totalizer and Actuator.

Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga with a 10-race card featuring the $135,000 Better Talk Now in Race 8 and the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina Handicap, offering a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, in Race 9. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern. 

Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.

NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Saratoga Race Course, and the best way to bet every race of the summer meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.

NYRA Press Office

Main photo: Jack Christopher wins the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens (NYRA/Coglianese)

@jonathanstettin Another great look back by Jonathan at the king of the claimers Oscar Barrera.

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