10/24/2005 11:00PM

Jerkens seeks elusive BC glory

Artie Schiller, shown training recently, has had only one bad race in his last dozen. Unfortunately, it was the 2004 Breeders' Cup Mile at Lone Star.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Jimmy Jerkens is quick to lament the fact that his fabled racing family has so far pitched a shutout in Breeders' Cup competition.

"I don't know what it is, but we just haven't had any luck in these races," Jerkens said.

"We" means Jimmy, age 46, and his legendary father, Allen Jerkens, who is 76. The elder Jerkens has been winning big races in New York for half a century, while Jimmy served his father as assistant trainer for 20 years before going out on his own nine years ago.

Just last weekend, the Jerkens boys were tough as nails, winning the two biggest prizes on the Belmont program for horses bred in New York. Win With Beck and Continental Reins gave Jimmy a one-two finish in the $150,000 Mohawk Handicap, then Allen came right back in the $250,000 Empire Classic to score for the second straight year with Spite the Devil.

In terms of Jerkens impact, the Breeders' Cup has been a different story. Together, they are 0 for 9, although Jimmy gets tagged for only one of those losses, by Artie Schiller in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Mile at Lone Star Park.

"Yeah," said Jimmy, refusing consolation, "but he was the favorite."

With Leroidesanimaux, Singletary, and Valixir in the field this year, Artie Schiller won't be favored, but no one will be surprised if he's right there at the end. In his last dozen starts, dating back to May of 2004, he has won seven, finished second three times, and been third once.

The only blip on that screen was the 2004 Mile, run on yielding Texas turf. He was also shuffled back on the first turn that day and stopped cold turning for home, which should be enough of an excuse for any horse beaten five lengths in such lofty company.

Then again, bad luck must be factored into the handicapping of any Breeders' Cup Mile. Of all the races on the program, the Mile is least suited to provide a fair shake. Most Miles are run at tracks with a narrow, seven-furlong inner turf course, dimensions typically unsuited to European runners. And with 14 horses hell bent to gain prime position around a tight first turn, chaos usually reigns.

The Belmont mile course is a bit different. It begins in a chute on the clubhouse turn and requires the field to negotiate a mild, left-handed dogleg to get to the backstretch. After that, horses have the benefit of a long straightaway to the far turn, and then a stretch run of 1,124 feet to the finish.

"The best draw going a mile here is somewhere in the middle," Jimmy Jerkens said Tuesday morning. "Horses on the outside have to hustle to get position. And if you're on the inside, they all come over on you."

Just then it was time for late-morning feed, and Jerkens was walking the shed row of his temporary Barn 41 annex, located near the stable cafeteria on Belmont's back forty. Part of his regular Barn 56 had been commandeered as facilities for Breeders' Cup invaders, prompting Jerkens to move Artie Schiller and a dozen or so barnmates to calmer ground.

"I figured he'd be better off here instead of down there with all that banging and painting, making all that noise," Jerkens said.

Just then Artie Schiller spun around in his stall and presented his distinctive blaze and finely tapered muzzle. Jerkens moved close, offering his colt a bite of his jacket. Artie took a mouthful, then decided to wait for the feed tub.

"Everything's been going great," Jerkens said. "Then he broke out in a little case of hives."

Sure enough, there was a sprinkling of tiny bumps beginning at the colt's dark brown shoulder and working back toward the flank. For a trainer, such a condition qualifies as more of a nuisance than a nightmare, and Jerkens was somewhat encouraged to hear that Cigar had popped a case of hives not long before winning the 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont.

"Fortunately, we're far enough out from the race to be able to give him an antihistamine," Jerkens said, describing the most common treatment. "That should get the hives under control and knock them out."

One thing completely out of Jerkens's control is the condition of the Belmont turf. Rain has rendered the ground very soft and cold weather has kept it from drying out. Artie Schiller's best races have been on firm ground, including his game runner-up effort to Funfair in the recent Kelso Handicap. In that race Artie pressed a pace of 45.11 seconds and 1:08.58 en route to a mile in 1:32.95, and was beaten only a head.

"He doesn't seem to be up in a jock's hands when he runs on soft turf," Jerkens noted. "He kind of lumbers awhile and doesn't get up into the bridle right away."

Another variable is Artie Schiller's jockey. With Richard Migliore out with a broken leg, Jerkens turned to West Coast leader Garrett Gomez for the Breeders' Cup assignment.

"I'll tell Garrett that he's doing good and he's honest, so just try and give him a good trip," Jerkens said. "Get him in a position where he's not running fast and losing ground. He's got a good, explosive run, but it's pretty short."

Jerkens paused, then came up with a sensible alternative, requiring much less breath:

"Maybe I'll just give him a leg up and say good luck."