This is a story about a great man and one of the best trainers ever, Allen Jerkens, aka “The Chief”.
He died two years ago (March 18, 2015). I did not know him very well, but he was universally admired on the backside and frontside. This article about his unforgettable legacy is what lead me to put pen to paper.
In the early 90s, I was just starting out and had a few horses at Philadelphia Park but wanted to make a mark in New York. Somehow I tracked down The Chief’s barn number. I called him late one afternoon and asked him if he was interested in training a two horse stable for a new partnership and maybe even claiming a few horses on the New York circuit.
He was kind and genuine during the entire call but…
Suggested I find a younger trainer on the New York circuit for my horses!
Over the next two decades, I was frustrated by the fact that I never had a chance to chat with him again. That changed in early 2014.
After training one morning, I was sitting in the Gulfstream Park viewing standing with one other person — Allen Jerkens. I had about 20 minutes of just him and I and I’ll never forget it.
We talked about his dad, who was a military officer, and also about a polo match Jerkens played in in the 1940’s at the Bronx Armory. He knew every player on his team, the horses’ names, the scores, and the fouls in that match. It was incredible to see the gleam in his eye as he recounted every aspect of that day 60 years in the past.
As I walked off the viewing stand, I saw Dale Romans. Dale was a huge fan of The Chiefs, and they were stabled right next to each other at Gulfstream.
Dale was smiling from ear to ear.
He had just set up a dinner with himself as the “moderator,” The Chief, and Hall of Famer Leroy Jolley. Both Jerkens and Jolley had agreed to let the dinner be filmed by a filmmaker friend of Dale’s — John Hennegan. The dinner was set for two weeks later at one of the fancy Italian restaurants on the beach.
Sadly, The Chief passed three days before that dinner. What we all would give to have the video made that night…