To honor a man of such mythological proportions that the nickname “Giant Killer” he earned so early in life stuck with him for the rest of his stellar Thoroughbred training career, his friends came together at Gulfstream Park to remember him in a winner’s circle ceremony sponsored by the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association this past Saturday, May 19 between the 8th and 9th race.
For those who truly knew H. Allen Jerkens, however, it was more important to honor him for what he did for others.
“He was a phenomenal human being,” said owner/trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, who shared Barn 14 at Gulfsream Park with Jerkens for three years.
Thus, it was racing luck that put two Thoroughbred veterans together. Vaccarezza took the opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as he could, sparking a deep friendship between the two men that left Vaccarezza determined to ensure Jerkens’ legacy would not be lost to the next generation of horsemen. To do so, he resolved to honor him in what is now an annual Gulfstream ceremony.
It was the personal time that Jerkens always took with others that Vaccarezza credits with helping to develop new horsemen, as well as fresh interest in Thoroughbred racing.
“He always took a moment to explain about a horse when you asked his opinion,” Vaccarezza said. “He helped more people than the entire horse racing community put together. I miss him immensely.”
Passed along to willing students like Vaccarezza, as well as Jerkens’ two sons, Jimmy and Steven, who are also Thoroughbred trainers, have been old school training skills and knowledge that helped the “Giant Killer” saddle the 1973 Whitney Handicap winner Onion , who defeated the great Secretariat, 1973 Woodward Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Prove Out , who also defeated Secretariat and Riva Ridge, respectively; and Beau Purple, who defeated Kelso in three of their four meetings. His horses defeated other greats such as Buckpasser, Cougar II, and Forego.
“His methods were very different than those of the current generation of trainers,” Vaccarezza explained. “He didn’t believe in a lot of stuff that we are doing now.”
Described as an “ovation” to Jerkens’ life, last weekend’s ceremony marked a year since his passing.
“I was blessed to be at his barn and I was blessed I can tell people he was my friend,” Vaccarezza said, whose voice was heavy with sadness as he remembered a friend who really belonged to the people of racing. “People like Allen Jerkens come along maybe once in a century.”
In 1973, Jerkens was voted the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer, and in 1975 he became the youngest trainer ever inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at the age of 45.
Another of Jerkens’ top horses was the filly Sky Beauty, who in 1993 swept the American Triple Tiara by winning the Acorn Stakes, the Mother Goose Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks. She won four Grade I races the following year en route to an Eclipse Award as outstanding older female.
In total, Jerkens won more than 200 stakes races.