04/01/2015 2:46PM

Abreu carries on with lessons learned from Jerkens

Barbara D. Livingston
Fernando Abreu, former assistant to Allen Jerkens, stands with Niche, the first horse saddled in Abreu's name at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Of all the people who knew, revered, and loved the late Allen Jerkens, nobody spent more time with the Chief on a daily basis over the past 18 1/2 years than longtime assistant Fernando Abreu.

“It would have been 19 years come this November that I’ve been with Allen,” said Abreu, who now is the trainer of record for the majority of horses under Jerkens’s care at the time of his death March 18. “I started on the track as a hot walker and worked for Mike Hushion for six months. But he wasn’t going to Florida that winter, so I picked up a job with Chief and never left him after that.”

Abreu said he had several offers either to work as an assistant for other barns or to go out on his own to train horses during his long tenure with Jerkens.

“Chief always wanted me to stay with him, and to be honest, I knew I’d be better off myself staying with him for as long as I could,” said Abreu. “Everything I know, I owe it to him. Everything I have, I owe it to him. He was more than an employer. He was also a father figure to me. He always wanted you to learn. Any time he did something with a horse, he always explained exactly why he did it, and I was like a sponge, absorbing everything he had to say.”

Abreu told the story of how every summer, he would drive Jerkens upstate from Belmont for the opening of the Saratoga meeting.

“He wouldn’t let anyone drive him to Saratoga but me,” said Abreu. “Each summer, I had to have someone else drive my car up there so I could take Allen. And for those three hours or so, I would be entertained by some of the greatest stories you’d ever hear. Sometimes, Chief would doze off during the trip, but when he woke up, he’d continue whatever story he’d been telling without missing a beat. Somehow, he always knew exactly where he’d left off.”

Abreu said of all the horses he’d been around over the years with Jerkens, Society Selection was his favorite.

“She was always special to us,” said Abreu. “She was good as a 2-year-old, good as a 3-year-old, and good as an older filly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chief happier than when she won the Test and Alabama that summer [in 1994] at Saratoga.”

Abreu, whose two brothers work as assistants for trainer Chad Brown, has six horses under his care.

“I’m hoping maybe some owners will see I’m out on my own now and send me more horses to train,” said Abreu. “It’s been very tough around the barn since the Chief’s been gone. There were so many good times, so many great memories. It’s been very hard for me, for all of us around here.”

Work to begin on childcare center

Ground is expected to be broken soon for the construction of Belinda’s House, a childcare center that will benefit all the working families at Gulfstream Park, Gulfstream Park West, and Palm Meadows. Belinda’s House is patterned after Anna House at Belmont Park, which serves a similar function for families working on the backstretch at New York Racing Association tracks.

Belinda’s House, named for the daughter of Gulfstream Park chairman Frank Stronach, is being run under the auspices of the Gulfstream Child Care Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise the financial resources necessary to construct and maintain the facility. Among the chief supporters of the project is Michael Dubb, a primary force behind the construction of Anna House, and trainer Carlo Vaccarezza.

“The center will be located on the opposite side of the road across from the dorms,” said Vaccarezza. “We have all the plans drawn up, and we’re ready to go. Now, what we need is the help of the horse community, like they had in New York, since this project is privately funded.”

Donations for Belinda’s House can be sent to GCCA at P.O. Box 3507, Hallandale Beach, FL 33008.

** Saturday’s main event is the $60,000 Orange Blossom, an overnight stakes for older fillies and mares at six furlongs. The race has attracted a field of seven, led by Vaccarezza’s Little Alexis, who’ll make her first start since the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, and the speedy multiple stakes winner R Free Roll.

The remainder of the field is made up of Flutterby, Joann’s Wildcat, Light Bringer, Puddifoot, and Quiet Hour.