Jimmy Jerkens: It’s All In The Gene

January 24, 2017

There is a very funny scene in the film “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” starring Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts. It’s actually a classic scene which may be hard to appreciate if you haven’t seen the movie, unless of course you are a race tracker. If you are a race tracker you will likely enjoy it. Spoiler alert, it does contain some adult language. It is the kind of movie you will enjoy more if you are a New Yorker. I have heard some say if you are not a New Yorker you won’t truly appreciate it and I agree with that to a large extent. It is very realistic to our way of life and growing up. Sometimes it is hard for people from other parts of the country and even world to get that.

The scene involves Eric’s character Paulie telling Mickey’s character Charlie he owns a piece of a racehorse. Better yet he owns a piece of a racehorse who was sired by a Belmont winner. Of course Charlie points out the cost of horses sired by Belmont winners and Paulie explains how he got involved in a “scam” to buy this horse. The horse was sired by artificial insemination which Paulie gets a little confused about. In any event the point I am making is Paulie wants to bet big money on his horse in her debut. He figures she has the champion gene. With horses it’s all in the gene he tells Charlie.


What exactly is a gene?

Gene- a unit of heredity that is transferred from a parent to offspring and is held to determine some characteristic of the offspring. 

In simpler terms:

A distinct sequence of nucleotides forming part of a chromosome, the order of which determines the order of monomers in a polypeptide or nucleic acid molecule which a cell (or virus) may synthesize.

Genes definitely hold an important place in the history of The Sport of Kings. The whole commercial breeding business is based on them, all across the world. Even when the logic is defied, breeders always go back to the bloodlines or the gene. The champion gene.

The gene explains a lot about the horse. Turf horses breed turf horses. Speed horses breed speed horses. Horses who like the mud or slop, tend to breed horses who like it wet. Idiosyncrasies carry through bloodlines to the point where horses like tracks their sires and dams liked. Even in Bull Riding, bulls who turn to the left, breed bulls that turn to the left. Maybe Paulie was on to something when he said it’s all in the gene.

Obviously genes play a prominent part in human development as well.They can affect health, longevity, and even character traits. Most of us have heard the expression he has good genes. It is usually a compliment and reference to a trait or characteristic.

Jimmy Jerkens has good genes. Especially when it comes to The Sport of Kings. Being the son of a legendary trainer, widely acclaimed as one of the best ever, in a game of many great ones leaves some big shoes to fill. Fill them Jimmy Jerkens most certainly has. He has had his own career worthy of the Hall of Fame and it could be argued he is in his prime and has much work and winning left to do. When you look at Jimmy Jerkens and the races he has won, and horses he has trained, you clearly see a trainer of stakes horses, who is competitive on the biggest stages in our game, and all over the country.

Jimmy is the son of a legend, of racing royalty, H. Allen Jerkens. Arguably one of the best ever. Affectionately called “The Chief” or ” The Giant Killer”, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone around the racetrack who didn’t love The Chief, learn from him, or have a kind word to say about him. The Chief helped everyone who asked, gave everyone a shot, trained stakes winners galore, won an Eclipse Award, and made the Hall of Fame. During my brief career as a jockey agent, he even gave me a shot. He won stakes races with riders who were primarily exercise riders. Even when he yelled at riders following a race, which he could do quite well, it was never taken bad or wrong. He was The Chief and if you messed up, he would let you know it. What he is  most remembered for in the game though is his well earned reputation as “The Giant Killer.”

In 1962 Allen Jerkens started training for Hobeau Farm and saddled Beau Purple to upset four time Horse of the Year and champion Kelso on three separate occasions. The Chief also upset such greats as Cicada, Buckpasser, Secretariat, Riva Ridge, and Forego.

In addition to defeating the great Kelso three times, The Chief also beat Buckpasser in The Brooklyn Handicap with Handsome Boy. His most famous upsets came at the expense of the great Secretariat who he beat with Onion in The Whitney and Prove Out in The Woodward. Anyway you slice it, Allen Jerkens had a knack for beating the big horse. It’s all in the gene.

The accomplishments of Jimmy Jerkens are quite noteworthy. He’s won The Breeders’ Cup dirt and turf miles with Corinthian and Artie Schiller respectively. He ran second in The Breeders’ Cup Classic with Effinex. He’s won over 700 races from just over 3500 starters and is still going strong. His horses have earned over $47 million dollars. He’s won The Travers twice, The Clark, finished third in The Belmont, and even won a race named The Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth in 2010 with one of his Travers winners, Afleet Express. He’s won The Florida Derby, The Jim Dandy, The Acorn, and the list goes on and on.

IMG_7221Jimmy Jerkens worked for his father and learned the game from him. If you pay attention to trainers then you know Jimmy likes to blow his horses out a day or two before a big race. That’s exactly what he plans to do with his Pegasus starter Shaman Ghost. That’s exactly what Allen Jerkens used to like to do. This Pegasus is a little different than the one Jimmy won in 2010. This one is the inaugural running of The Pegasus World Cup, currently the world’s richest horse race with a purse of $12 million dollars. $7.5 million of that goes to the winner.

It is no surprise the race attracted the two biggest names in dirt racing today, Arrogate and California Chrome. To add excitement, not only do we have the two biggest names in the world’s richest race, we have them in a re-match of the one-two finishers in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. The structure of the race, unique in nature where people put up $1 million dollars to secure a starting spot for “a horse” to be named later, created many additional back stories and wheeling and dealing. One of the most fascinating aspects of the race to me is, will the Jerkens’ “The Giant Killer” legend continue. The stage is set for it, and should Jimmy Jerkens pull it off, upsetting two great horses in the inaugural running of the world’s richest race, we may have to agree it is indeed all in the gene.

I spoke to Mr. Jerkens about the upcoming race, and specifically whether he gives any thought to the story line that is about to unfold, one way or the other. Mr. Jerkens is a total professional, and true horseman. His first and primary concern is “to get my horse to the race in the best possible condition he can be in.” “I try not to even think about that, and stay focused on preparing my horse.” He knows what he is up against, and knows it will take a huge effort from Shaman Ghost. He did concede, “should it happen, it would be hard not to think about it.” Should it happen, he has every right to think about it, and enjoy the legacy he’s already continued, but would be adding an epic and historic chapter to.

IMG_7222Jimmy Jerkens has only had Shaman Ghost for his last few starts. One of the things he did was put the horse on Lasix, and it seems to have moved him up, as first time on it he won The Woodward in a gritty battle, defeating the accomplished Frosted in the process. He scratched out of The Breeders’ Cup Classic because he got sick, but bounced back with a decent third against Gun Runner in The Clark. I’ll forgive that race as it looked like he needed it, and he was running back first time after being scratched due to being ill. He’s fresh, has won over the Gulfstream Park strip, and is owned by Stronach Stables, the owners of Gulfstream and creators of the event itself. He’s the house horse, and one of only three in here that are still on the improve. Jose Ortiz is riding, and he is riding as good as anyone, and building up quite the resume. The inaugural Pegasus World Cup would look awfully nice on it.

Will the Giant Killer legacy continue? I’d bet if not Saturday, at some point it will. Can it happen Saturday? Absolutely, it’s all in the gene.

High Five

Frank Stronach, Belinda Stronach, Tim Ritvo, PJ Campo, and the rest of The Stronach Group for putting the race together. I like the US having the world’s richest race. I also love the idea of moving it to turf, or adding a turf race. That will only bring in more world wide interest and perhaps horses not only from Europe, but from Japan, Australia, South Africa, and who knows where else. While I am not a fan of the pricing, which looks like it will exclude many day to day smaller players, many who are the bread and butter of the sport, the event overall is good for racing. The Stronach Group does put up when it comes to trying to improve and promote the game. Do they get it 100% right every single time? No, but who does?

Low Five

Perry Martin. While we are on the subject of continuing legacies, California Chrome has never been known for the gracefulness of his owners. That legacy is continuing. This guy made me miss Steve Coburn with a microphone in his hand. Not allowing Art Sherman to speak, and giving him his due on stage did not exactly exude class. His speech was beyond what I choose to write here. Just go away Perry Martin.

@PastTheWire Just Crushing Gulfstream!

Jason Heidl @JasonHeidl View testimonials