He was one of the most revered trainers in the history of American racing, a Hall of Famer who upset the great Secretariat twice a few months after Big Red swept the 1973 Triple Crown.
Allen Jerkens, a Bellerose Terrace resident who was born in Islip, died yesterday at 85. He was hospitalized with an infection March 2 in Aventura, Florida, and never recovered.
Jerkens sent out his first winner at 21 in 1950. The man known as "The Chief" won 3,859 races, including more than 160 graded stakes, with earnings of more than $104 million. Before falling ill, he was still training a small stable in Florida.
Besides beating Secretariat in the Whitney Handicap with Onion and in the Woodward Stakes with Prove Out, Jerkens knocked off all-time greats Kelso, Buckpasser, Riva Ridge and Forego. The string of upsets earned him the nickname "The Giant Killer,'' which he disliked.
His sons, Steve and Jimmy, worked for him and followed him into training. Jimmy Jerkens won Saratoga's Travers Stakes, something his father never did, for the second time last summer. In a tweet yesterday by Daily Racing Form reporter David Grening, Jimmy Jerkens said: "I hung on his every word. He was my one and only hero.''
Allen Jerkens also trained 1994 champion older female Sky Beauty, Devil His Due and Missy's Mirage. His last major stakes wins came in 2012 with Emma's Encore.
Jerkens was the son of Joseph Jerkens, a former Austrian cavalry officer who owned a riding academy. Allen Jerkens started as a steeplechase jockey but soon grew too heavy to ride. His father trained show horses and liked rehabilitating injured racehorses. Seeing them back at the track and thriving influenced Allen Jerkens to become a trainer.
Jerkens was a mentor to many trainers, including Leah Gyarmati and Michael Hushion. On the backstretches of Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga he was known for his generosity to those down on their luck.
Besides his sons Steve, Jimmy and Allen, Jerkens is survived by a daughter, Julie, and several grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.