10/18/2014 4:35PM

Effinex benefits from blinkers in Empire Classic score

Barbara D. Livingston
Effinex (left) added blinkers and scored an upset victory Saturday in the Empire Classic at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Jimmy Jerkens breaks into an impression of his Hall of Fame father, Allen, when he is asked about adding blinkers to a horse’s equipment.

“Everybody acts like there’s an extra oxygen tank in there,” the younger Jerkens says, impersonating his father.

There may not be an extra oxygen tank in those blinkers, but there’s something to them that works. On Saturday, Jimmy Jerkens equipped Effinex with blinkers for the first time, and the 3-year-old colt ran the race of his life, wearing down the pace-setting So Lonesome to win the $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap by a neck at Belmont Park.

So Lonesome, the Albany Stakes winner, finished second by 5 3/4 lengths over Beautyinthepulpit. He was followed in order by the defending Empire Classic champion Saratoga Snacks, Eye Luv Lulu, Awesome Vision, the 5-2 favorite Sioux, Sinistra, and Empire Dreams.

Sent off as the longest shot in the field at 17-1, Effinex returned $37.20 to win.

Jerkens used the same set of blinkers on Effinex that he used on Wicked Strong when he won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga in July and on Classic Point in Monday’s Punkin Pie Stakes at Belmont.

“I certainly didn’t know he’d do this,” Jerkens said. “I breezed him one day with them on, and he looked like a different horse. I don’t know why I didn’t put them on last time. He’s been doing real good since his last race. I didn’t know if he was good enough. He was. That’s wonderful.”

Jerkens was given Effinex to train during the summer by the Tri-Bone Stables of Bernice Cohen and her son, Russell, a New York-based veterinarian who manages the stable. Effinex is a son of Mineshaft out of the dam What a Pear, whom Tri-Bone also bred and raced.

“The toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life is to breed a horse,” said Russell Cohen, who named the horse in memory of his failed marriage. “To get a mare in foal, let alone have it born, let alone get to the races, and let alone win a stakes.”

Angel Arroyo rode Effinex, picking up the mount for Luis Saez whose brother, Juan, died earlier this week. Arroyo had ridden the horse in his previous start – a third-place finish behind Sioux in a second-level allowance race Sept. 28.

“Big difference, he liked the blinkers. That’s why he ran better,” Arroyo said.

Effinex did break a little better than he previously had, but he began climbing early on down the backside. Arroyo got him over to the inside and in mid-pack.

So Lonesome, under Jose Lezcano, set fractions of 23.66 seconds for the quarter, 47.09 for the half-mile, and 1:11.31 for six furlongs while being chased by Eye Luv Lulu and Sioux.

So Lonesome turned into the stretch with a clear lead, but Effinex, guided off the rail by Arroyo at the three-sixteenths pole, gradually wore him down.

Effinex covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.51.

Though Effinex was beaten 10 lengths by Sioux last out, Jerkens felt the Belmont main track that day was speed favoring and horses trying to make up ground got discouraged.

“We thought the extra eighth of a mile couldn’t hurt either,” Jerkens said, referring to the Empire Classic.

Neither could a set of blinkers.