Nearly everything about Monday’s $100,000 Saratoga Dew Stakes seemed cut from the mold of what is now the modern-day Allen Jerkens moment at Saratoga.
It goes something like this. First Jerkens uses what some might call a different approach to preparing and training a horse up to a target race. He prepares himself for the criticism-which came from a different kind of racing press during his days of training the obscure to defeat the supremely unique-that never really arrives. Then he goes out and wins, and the real fun begins.
Fans, fellow horsemen, media and other supporters come out of the woodwork when Jerkens wins these days at Saratoga. They did Monday, gathering inside and outside of the winner’s circle, waiting to congratulate the 84-year-old Hall of Famer for another victory. After Go Unbridled won the Saratoga Dew for the second straight year Monday, those same folks waited for Jerkens. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. Go Unbridled and jockey Junior Alvarado circled outside the winner’s circle like they were waiting out a stewards’ inquiry. Assistant Fernando Abreu waits on the track. Mike Sellito, Alvarado’s agent, waits near the bottom of the stairs that lead to the boxes.
Finally the man makes his appearance. He didn’t take so long for dramatic effect. No, he just needs a little more time these days to get from point A to B, and in this case point A is a small office at the back corner of the paddock where he often likes to watch a race and B is the winner’s circle. A friend held his arm as he walked, and with the free arm he dished out high fives to whoever wanted one on the way to see his horse.
Tom Durkin picked up on the drama, as he always does, and instead of announcing the name of the equine winner proclaimed that “returned to the winner’s circle is Allen Jerkens,” to the roar of the crowd on hand behind the enclosure on the apron and in the box seats. He added a few more lines, quickly muted by the loud ovation. Somebody mentioned the ovation being on par with the ones Ramon Dominguez and Royal Delta got Sunday, relatively speaking of course.
The win, like most these days for the man elected to the Hall of Fame nearly 40 years ago, is especially sweet. It’s also his first of the meet, ending a string of 17 losses that included a tough beat at the wire in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss earlier in the meet with Classic Point.
“It means a lot more at Saratoga,” Jerkens said. “Every place you win, and anytime you win a stakes, it’s just great.”
Jerkens picked this stakes victory by, well, taking a page from the Jerkens training manual.
Go Unbridled, winner of last year’s Saratoga Dew by daylight and third behind Royal Delta and It’s Tricky in her subsequent start, lost all three of her starts in 2013 leading up to Monday’s feature. The latest was a 24-length defeat in the restricted Open Mind Stakes June 23, when the 6-year-old Unbridled Jet mare bolted as the field made its way past the gap by the 1-mile pole at Belmont.
Jerkens freshened Go Unbridled up and went to work when he got to Saratoga. She worked twice before the Saratoga Dew, both times going 7 furlongs and five days apart. It’s a move Jerkens has done throughout his 53-year training career, breeze or race at 6, 7, 8 furlongs, stretch out and get the money.
“I took a chance and trained her like we used to,” Jerkens said. “I was going to be open to a lot of criticism, it’s a different game now you know? But I wanted to make sure she didn’t get tired.”
Go Unbridled didn’t get tired despite losing a bit of ground on the first turn before Alvarado tucked her in behind the dueling Mischief Maker and Shesabronxbomber and Dreaming of Cara a few lengths back. The field bunched up approaching the half-mile pole, with Alvarado keeping Go Unbridled in the clear on the outside, keeping Dreaming of Cara inside.
Alvarado stayed busy on Go Unbridled into the stretch and finally wrested a short lead from Mischief Maker just outside the sixteenth pole. He tapped her once from there, and she won by 2 ¾ lengths as Lady On the Run beat out Mischief Maker and Dreaming of Cara in a three-way photo for second.
“She had to be up there closer on account of the slower pace today,” Jerkens said. “It was great.”
Jerkens wrapped up his interviews in the winner’s circle and headed back to the clubhouse, right as the skies opened up. His cellphone blowing up with congratulatory calls, Jerkens posed for pictures with everyone from middle-aged men to little children to moms and daughters.
He finally made it to the ramp at the back of the clubhouse, stopped and looked out at the rain. Someone in his group offered to buy Jerkens a beer. He certainly earned it, and didn’t hesitate.
“Where else are we going to go?” Jerkens said with a laugh.
Just another part of the modern-day Jerkens moment at Saratoga.