03/24/2015 1:35PM

Training great Jerkens gets proper send-off

Barbara D. Livingston
From left, Allen Jerkens's sons, Steven, Jimmy, and Allen Jr.; and daughter, Julie, speak at their father's memorial service Tuesday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – A standing-room-only crowd filled the Sport of Kings Theatre at Gulfstream Park on Tuesday morning to say goodbye to Allen Jerkens in a memorial service for the Hall of Fame trainer, who died March 18.

Family members, media members, trainers, and Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero shared stories about Jerkens, remembering him as a soft-spoken, fierce competitor with a passion for the sport and compassion for those who worked in it.

“Allen taught us you can live quietly and speak very loudly,” said Caton Bredar, the racing analyst who emceed the one-hour ceremony. “Not a Giant Killer but a giant of a person.”

Jerkens was nicknamed “Giant Killer” for orchestrating some of the biggest upsets in Thoroughbred racing, beating Secretariat twice and Kelso three times. But he also was nicknamed “The Chief” as someone who mentored countless people and provided jobs to many more on the backstretch.

Allen Jerkens Jr., who did not follow his father into the Thoroughbred industry, gave an emotional speech, detailing what it was like to grow up the trainer’s son. Jerkens stood on the stage alongside his brothers, Jimmy and Steve – both horse trainers – and his sister, Julie.

Above the stage was a photo of Allen Jerkens in a tuxedo at the barn with a hose in his hand, presumably filling the water bucket of one of his horses.

“That photo was taken 30 minutes before our sister was going to walk down the aisle,” Allen Jerkens Jr. said. “Feeding the horses in his stable. You get the gist.”

Jerkens described what Christmas was like in the Jerkens household.

“We were the only family around where the father woke the kids to open presents instead of the other way around,” he said. “Santa had to get his work done early. Dad was up at 3:15, presents at 3:45, breakfast at 4, and out the door at 4:15.”

Jerkens said his father said he had to get to the barn early in case “the hotwalkers didn’t get to the barn because it was Christmas.”

Sean Clancy, the Eclipse Award-winning writer and former steeplechase jockey, spent many mornings talking with Jerkens at Saratoga.

“They say never meet your heroes, they’ll always let you down,” Clancy said. “Not The Chief. He never let us down. He’s the greatest.”

Todd Pletcher, a seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, referenced a response Jerkens once gave when asked how he would like to be remembered.

“I did the best I could, paid attention, and never did anybody wrong,” Pletcher paraphrased Jerkens as saying. “If we could all live our lives like that, we’d all be in a much better place. God bless The Chief.”

Cordero said he first met Jerkens in 1962. He recalled at a dinner in the 1990s when Cordero’s wife, Marjorie, asked Jerkens who were the best riders he’d ever seen. Jerkens named Eddie Arcaro, Bill Shoemaker, Bill Boland – who attended Tuesday’s service – and Cordero.

Two days later, Cordero recalled, he got beat on a Jerkens horse when he allowed a rival to rally along the rail. Cordero recalled a not-too-happy Jerkens yelling at him for several minutes after the race.

“Who told you you were any good?” Cordero recalled Jerkens screaming. “You did, two nights ago. He said, ‘I must’ve been drunk.’ ”

Cordero then said Jerkens was to horse racing what Muhammad Ali was to boxing and Michael Jordan was to basketball.

“The Chief was the best I ever saw in my life,” Cordero said. “I will always remember him.”