03/18/2015 8:37PM

Training great Allen Jerkens dies at age 85

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Barbara D. Livingston
Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens died Wednesday at age 85.

Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens, a “Giant Killer” to some but simply a giant to most, died Wednesday in a south Florida hospital due to complications from an infection. He was 85.

Jerkens was hospitalized Feb. 28 with a urinary tract infection and battled for a couple of weeks before his condition worsened, according to his son, Jimmy Jerkens, also a trainer.

“He had a seizure the second day he was in there, and he never fully recovered,” Jimmy Jerkens said. “He just never got past a certain point and got weaker and weaker from then on. He was in hospice care the last day and a half.”

Jerkens said he and a brother and sister were by their father’s side when he died late Wednesday afternoon.

“Everyone knows what he meant to this industry,” said Jimmy Jerkens, who worked as an assistant to his father for many years before going out on his own in 1997. “God, I hung on his every word for most of my life. He was my one and only hero.”

:: Allen Jerkens: The Chief, but also a teacher

In a training career that began in 1950 after a brief time as a steeplechase jockey, Allen Jerkens won 3,859 races, which ranks 11th all time. His horses earned purse money of $103,754,915, 14th all time. Jerkens won with two of the last four horses who raced under his name.

Jerkens earned the nickname “Giant Killer” for his penchant for upsetting some of the biggest stars in the sport. In the 1960s, Jerkens upset Kelso three times with Beau Purple and upset Buckpasser with Handsome Boy. In 1973, he upset the mighty Secretariat with two horses – Onion in the Whitney Handicap and Prove Out in the Woodward. Jerkens won the Eclipse Award as champion trainer in 1973.

In 1975, Jerkens was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, at the time the youngest trainer to earn that distinction.

Jerkens trained the 13-time stakes winner Sky Beauty, the champion older filly and mare of 1994. Other notable stakes winters he trained include Caress, Classy Mirage, Devil His Due, Kelly Kip, November Snow, Society Selection and Wagon Limit.

Jerkens, also nicknamed “The Chief,” was the leading trainer on the New  York Racing Association circuit four times from 1957 to 1969. He won numerous training titles at NYRA tracks, including four at Aqueduct and three at Belmont.

Jerkens had long associations with Jack Dreyfus’s Hobeau Farm and Allaire du Pont.

John Nerud, the Hall of Fame trainer who last month celebrated his 102nd birthday, said of Jerkens: “He is a trainer, he is not an impostor. He and I are horsemen. There’s a big difference between a trainer and a horseman.”

Nerud recalled how much Jerkens hated to lose.

“At Hialeah, if his horse got beat, he’d walk back – and there were a lot of palm trees at Hialeah – and he used to kick the tree and say, ‘Why me?’ And he’d walk to the next tree and kick the tree and say, ‘Why me?’ ” Nerud said. “He hated to get beat. He was a good trainer, and he was a good fella.”

Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who has accomplished more than any trainer in the sport, said that on the wall of his trophy room at his home, he has a picture of him and Jerkens together in the Saratoga paddock.

“He was a horseman’s horseman,” Lukas said. “No frills, old school, as they call it nowadays. Very thorough. Always to be considered, whether it was the third race on a Wednesday or a Grade 1 on a Saturday.”

Lukas also credited Jerkens for being “so generous with his information.  He shared his knowledge with so many people, so many young guys. They don’t make them like that anymore. He was special.”

Among the trainers who once worked under Jerkens are Mike Hushion and Leah Gyarmati.

Last summer at Saratoga, Lukas and Jerkens were honored by NYRA for their accomplishments and contributions to the sport in what was called a “red-jacket ceremony,” a Saratoga Hall of Fame of sorts.

“I wish he could have been there for that,” Lukas said.

Jerkens, who would winter in south Florida and spend the rest of his year in New York, had been based solely in Florida for about 16 months. His second wife, Elisabeth, died last summer.

Jerkens is survived his sons, Allen, Steven, and Jimmy;  a daughter, Julie; and several grandchildren.

A memorial service for Jerkens will be held at Gulfstream Park on Tuesday at 11 a.m. in the Sport of Kings Theatre.

From the DRF archives:

:: Jerkens in long line of trainers thriving after 70

:: Belmont: Emma's Encore pulls $80 Victory Ride upset for Jerkens

:: Hovdey: The day Onion slayed Secretariat

:: Hovdey: Hall of Famer Jerkens keeps going at age 83

:: Happy 60th anniversary, Allen Jerkens

:: Q&A: Allen Jerkens