'Giant Killer' takes aim at Arazi Hall of Fame trainer Jerkens makes most of 15-1 shot

May 02, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Allen Jerkens is known as "The Giant Killer."

But can the Hall of Fame trainer slay Arazi?

"I don't know," the 63-year-old horseman said. "Arazi sure looks good to me. He's carrying weight over his hindquarters, and that's what you want in a racehorse."

Jerkens is one of 17 other trainers hoping to catch Arazi on an off day, and beat the odds-on choice this afternoon in the 118th Kentucky Derby.

No favorite has won the Derby since 1979, when Spectacular Bid trounced General Assembly.

Jerkens runs 15-1 long shot Devil His Due, a horse that he has brought into the race "the Ben Jones way."

An upset would be nothing new for Jerkens. He beat 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat twice that year, first with an ex-claimer named Onion in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga and then with Prove Out in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.

In his Derby-training techniques, Jerkens is emulating Ben Jones, who won six Derbies, more than any other trainer. Jones often ran his horses in the Derby Trial, a mile race on Tuesday, just four days before the Derby.

But that kind of rigorous regimen is no longer fashionable. The trial now has been set back a week before the Derby, and hardly any horses that run in it compete a week later. This year's winner, Alydeed, is running instead in the Preakness.

"The prevalent feeling now is that horses don't need much work," Jerkens said. "But I've never had much luck with horses I trained easy."

So, even though Devil His Due had just won back-to-back stakes -- the Gotham in a dead heat with Lure, and the Wood Memorial over West By West, in two weeks -- Jerkens worked the son of Devil's Bag a mile at Belmont Park on Tuesday, shipped him into Louisville the next day and then blew the colt out three eighths of a mile yesterday.

Jerkens pronounced him "dead fit."

Still, the odds are against him.

Jerkens is winless in two Derby tries. He finished 11th with Round Stake in 1975 and sixth with Sensitive Prince in 1978.

Devil His Due did not run as a 2-year-old.

No unraced 2-year-old has won the Derby, and the Derby never has been won by a Gotham-Wood Memorial winner.

"But," Jerkens said, "you're never going to do what's never been done unless you do it. No Catholic was president until Kennedy."

Jerkens said Devil His Due has his quirks.

"He lugs in slightly and he waits on horses," Jerkens said.

If he beats Arazi, it would be by the narrowest of margins, if the horse follows his track record. In his four career wins, he won twice by a nose, once in a dead heat and once by a length.

"You don't know if he's doing just what he's got to do to win, or if that's only how good he is," Jerkens said. "One thing for sure: If he's going to win the Kentucky Derby, he will have to improve off his race in the Wood Memorial."

Jerkens gained his giant-killing reputation not only by beating Secretariat, but also by upsetting Horse of the Year Kelso three times with Beau Purple in the early 1960s, champion Buckpasser in the 1967 Brooklyn Handicap with Handsome Boy and three-time champion filly Cicada with Pocosaba.

How did he do it?

"Nobody but an idiot like me would run against them," Jerkens said. "What you have to do is have your horse peaking at the right time and then catch the big horse on an off day."

Is that a possibility today?

"Not so sure," Jerkens said. "In some of those other races, there was hardly anyone else of consequence in the field. Today, we're running against the best 3-year-olds in America, and there are 19 horses in the race. I think it's a good bunch of 3- year-olds, and they are going to prove it next year at 4.

"What you need to win the Derby is a clean trip, and luck."

How Derby favorites have fared

How the horse favored in the wagering has fared in the Kentucky Derby since 1979, when favorite Spectacular Bid ran first:

Year Horse .. .. .. .. .. .. Odds Finish

1979 Spectacular Bid .. .. ..60-1 .. ..1

Rockhill Native .. .. 2.10-1 .. ..5

Proud Appeal-x .. .. .2.30-1 .. .18

Air Forbes Won .. .. .2.70-1 .. ..7

1983 Marfa-x .. .. .. .. ..2.40-1 .. ..5

1984 Life's Magic-x .. .. .2.80-1 .. ..8

Chief's Crown .. .. ..1.20-1 .. ..3

Snow Chief .. .. .. ..2.10-1 .. .11

1987 Demons Begone .. .. ..2.20-1 .. DNF

Private Terms .. .. ..3.40-1 .. ..9

Awe Inspiring-x .. .. ..80-1 .. ..3

Easy Goer-x .. .. .. ...80-1 .. ..2

1990 Mister Frisky .. .. ..1.90-1 .. ..8

Hansel .. .. .. .. .. 2.50-1 .. .10

(x-denotes part of entry)

Post finishers

The number of victories by post position in the Kentucky Derby since 1900:

Post .. ..No. .. . Post ...No.

1 .. .. ..12 .. .. .11 .. .3

2 .. ... ..9 .. .. .12 .. .3

3 .. ... ..7 .. .. .13 .. .3

4 .. .. ..11 .. .. .14 .. .2

5 .. ... ..8 .. .. .15 .. .1

6 .. ... ..5 .. .. .16 .. .0

7 .. ... ..7 .. .. .17 .. .0

8 .. ... ..7 .. .. .18 .. .0

9 .. ... ..4 .. .. .19 .. .1

10 .. .. ..8.. .. ..20 .. .1

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