Looking back for `Luck'

Jerkens tries to take page from upset days

June 04, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Allen Jerkens began earning his nickname, "Giant Killer," in 1962 when his horse, Beau Purple, twice upset the incomparable Kelso.

The wily Hall of Fame trainer will try again tomorrow in the 131st Belmont Stakes to slay another giant, Charismatic, as he attempts to win the Triple Crown. But this time, instead of trying to defeat a horse of Allaire duPont's -- she owned Kelso -- Jerkens will attempt to spring the upset with a horse duPont owns, Best of Luck.

DuPont bred Best of Luck -- and Kelso and other stakes winners -- at her Woodstock Farm in Cecil County. The 3-year-old Best of Luck has not yet developed into a great horse, but Kelso, the gallant gelding, competed nine years, won 39 of 63 races and retired with $1.9 million in earnings, a record at the time.

He was named Horse of the Year five consecutive years, 1960 through 1964, a feat likely never to be repeated.

About 10 years after Jerkens' horse defeated Kelso, duPont hired the Hall of Fame trainer to manage her stable. A quarter century later here at Belmont Park, duPont's Best of Luck will try not only to knock off Charismatic but also to fill in a surprising blank on the long, impressive resumes of Jerkens and duPont. Although they boast more than a century's worth of racing experience between them, they've been shut out in Triple Crown races.

Jerkens' horses upset not only Kelso but also Secretariat, Buckpasser and Skip Away. Yet Jerkens is 0-for-5 in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont; he has not attempted the Preakness. And duPont has not owned one starter in a Triple Crown race.

That doesn't bother her -- "not a bit," she said. "There are a lot of good races."

That is perhaps an old-fashioned view, a preference for the prestigious stakes for older horses, such as New York's Jockey Club Gold Cup, which Kelso won five times -- when it was run at two miles. But not even Kelso, who was Horse of the Year as a 3-year-old, ran in a Triple Crown race.

"I didn't think he was ready," duPont said. "We didn't push him."

That, too, is perhaps an old-fashioned view, and one shared by Jerkens. He certainly didn't push Best of Luck, who required seven races to break his maiden. But after watching Best of Luck repeatedly drop back at the start of races and come flying at the end, he began thinking about the Belmont and its 1 1/2 miles.

"I thought he could handle it because of his style, and he has it in his breeding," Jerkens said. "The distance can be an equalizer, and I'm hoping that will be strong for us."

Best of Luck's sire and dam, Broad Brush and Crowned, both won graded stakes at 1 1/4 miles. Best of Luck has not raced that far, but he has won twice at 1 1/8 miles with explosive late rallies.

His latest conquest was the Peter Pan Stakes 12 days ago at Belmont. Best of Luck charged from last five-wide in the mud to win that 1 1/8-mile race by a length. It earned a berth in the Belmont.

"We thought going into the Peter Pan that if he was running well at the end, we'd take a chance," Jerkens said.

The Belmont Park oddsmaker, Michael Sherack, believes Best of Luck has a good chance. Sherack bestowed single-digit odds upon only four horses: Charismatic 2-1, Menifee 7-2, Silverbulletday 4-1 and Best of Luck 6-1.

And Sherack is not alone in his respect for the "Giant Killer."

"Allen doesn't run in these races just to look good in the post parade," said D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Charismatic. "He is going here because he believes he has a horse that can win it."

Best of Luck is not the only horse born in Maryland who will try to crash Charismatic's Triple Crown party. Patience Game, fifth in the Preakness and 20-1 in the morning line, was foaled at Ross Valley Farm in Sparks. Eleanor Ross owned the Baltimore County farm then. She died early last year, and Peter Angelos bought Ross Valley last fall.

A son of Woodman and Starboard Tack, Patience Game survived a freak accident shortly after birth, and three years later at Pimlico he survived a vicious bump in the homestretch of the Preakness.

When he was 4 months old, Patience Game somehow became impaled upon a four-foot slab of fence. The spear-like piece had penetrated his chest and poked through his withers (between his neck and back). The wood was removed, veterinary care administered, and Patience Game recovered.

Three years later in the Preakness, Patience Game was pinched back to last at the break and bumped repeatedly down the backstretch.

Then, as he surged along the rail toward the wire, Badge slammed into him, knocking him out of contention. Running in only his fifth race, Patience Game wouldn't have beaten Charismatic, but he might have finished second or third.

"You talk about a lack of experience," said Alex Hassinger Jr., his California-based trainer. "I think he gained it all in the Preakness."

After that Hassinger shipped Patience Game to Belmont Park, where the colt has thrived.

"I think coming here after the Preakness has done him a world of good," Hassinger said. "He's a fantastic animal with a great pedigree. I think that's really going to show."

Asked if he would mind ruining Charismatic's Triple Crown bid, Hassinger said: "Not a bit. That's what racing's all about. Let's go have some fun. Let's win it."

The Belmont

What: 131st Belmont Stakes, third leg of horse racing's Triple Crown

Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

When: Tomorrow

Post time: 5: 27 p.m.

Distance: 1 1/2 miles

Purse: $1 million

Favorite: Charismatic (2-1), winner of Kentucky Derby and Preakness TV: Chs. 2, 7. Coverage begins at 4: 30 p.m.

Belmont field

PP Horse Odds

1. Teletable 99-1

2. Vision and Verse 20-1] 3. Silverbulletday 4-1

4. Charismatic 2-1

5. Pineaff 30-1

6. Lemon Drop Kid 20-1

7. Patience Game 20-1

8. Adonis 20-1

9. Prime Directive 30-1

10. Menifee 7-2

11. Stephen Got Even 10-1

12. Best of Luck 6-1

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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