07/23/2002 11:00PM

Jerkens back at summer home

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Allen Jerkens flew here from New York for his first visit to Saratoga, 56 years ago. He's been flying high at the Spa ever since.

A New Yorker named Larry Gottlieb had business in Saratoga during the summer of 1946 and invited the 17-year-old Jerkens to fly with him on a converted military plane that made daily excursions from the Big Apple. He must have liked what he saw, because two years later, when his father suggested he take three horses from the family stable and race them at Saratoga, he jumped at the opportunity.

"We were stabled in Andy Schuttinger's barn," Jerkens recalled the other morning. "One of the horses was Honor Brook, by Eight Thirty, and another was First Night, by Rhodes Scholar. We claimed them off the Cherioka Stable for $5,000 and we won three races with them."

Jerkens usually does well at Saratoga and carried this knack to new heights in 1973 by upsetting Secretariat in the Whitney Handicap with Onion.

"Onion was a pretty good horse," Jerkens said. "He was second to Forego in the Carter Handicap, and four days before the Whitney he set a record at 6 1/2 furlongs."

He may be light on Onions this summer, but he has a number of interesting horses who could make their mark here in the weeks ahead.

One of them is Puzzlement, who finished strongly on Wednesday's opening program to win his race with a flourish. Puzzlement, a 3-year-old homebred colt by Pine Bluff, was making his first start for owner breeder Joseph Shields since finishing second in the Peter Pan on May 25.

"He was going to run in the Belmont but developed an infection in a heel," Jerkens noted. "He has always worked well, and his latest round of works have been very good. Let's see how he comes out of this race but he could be all right."

Another Jerkens horse with excellent prospects ahead is Shine Again. This 5-year-old mare by Wild Again, bred and owned by Allaire duPont, upset the Ballerina Handicap last summer at 21-1 and will attempt to win the same stakes again, though you won't get the same price.

Saint Verre, owned by Joe Allen, finished second in the recent Poker Handicap on the turf course at Belmont. A 4-year-old colt by Saint Ballado, Saint Verre appears to have found a home on the grass and could be a factor in the Bernard Baruch on Friday.

Greatness, from the last crop of the late Mr. Prospector out of Harbor Club, has won both his starts in th colors of Chicago's Ed and Marilyn Seltzer. He looks like a 3-year-old with a future, and his next appearance will be widely monitored. Jerkens could have a lot of fun here.

Go for Wand looks top-notch

Among the many joys of Saratoga are those races that bring together outstanding horses in a division. Prospects are particularly bright this weekend that the $250,000 Go for Wand will be special if Atelier, Dancethruthedawn, Miss Linda, and With Ability clash as currently indicated.

Dancethruthedawn, an earner of $1.4 million, beat the colts last year in the Queen's Plate and is regarded as one of the best fillies Canada has produced in recent years. Miss Linda, winner of over $700,000, won Keeneland's Grade 1 Spinster last fall, and retains her good form this season. With Ability has come to her best form this season with stakes victories in New York and Chicago.

But Atelier may have too much firepower for her rivals.

Shug McGaughey will be seeking his seventh victory in the Go for Wand with Atelier. She showed smart form in winning the recent Molly Pitcher Handicap at Monmouth 1 1/8 miles, the same distance as the Go for Wand. Her speed throughout that race was one of the most distinguishing aspects of her victorious performance, and another was her determination to continue in front when challenged in the stretch.

She has been a very competitive performer throughout her career and could reach new heights with a victory in the Go for Wand.