This Week at Saratoga: Allen Jerkens and Old School Conditioning

Breezing 3 days apart, working maidens distances equal to their race debut, last work within 5 days of a race, etc.

The only guy gutsy enough to do something different in this era of copycat conditioners, the legendary hall of famer, Mr. H. Allen Jerkens.

Bold Warrior, 3yo, 3:2-1-0
Race 7, 9F, Curlin Stakes
Saratoga, Friday 29th

July 24th – 7F/1:27
July 22nd – 3F/:36 *rider dumped, workout aborted
July 14th – 7F/1:27
RACE June 29th – 7F/1st/94BSF
June 20th – 6F/1:14

Bella Silver, 3yo, first time starter
Race 6, 6F, MSW 40K
Saratoga, Wednesday 27th

July 22nd – 5F/1:01
July 17th – 4F/:49
July 13th – 4F/:49
June 22nd – 4F/:47
June 19th – 6F/1:17
June 14th – 5F/1:02

Famous for knocking off such thoroughbred legends as Secretariat, Kelso, Riva Ridge, Buckpasser, and Forego – at age 83 Allen Jerkens is still competing on the big stage with lesser known stock. What is the true measure of a superior training job? In my mind, it’s getting the best performances out of the horses you are dealt, pretty much the definition of being known as ‘The Giant Killer’.

Those of you who critique my conditioning methods, and there are many, must keep in mind I am no pioneer – I simply attempt to call attention to the practices of the horsemen of yesteryear – with the belief that if more of today’s best stock was trained in such a manner using the latest technology, we would soon find our next Triple Crown champion and our horses wouldn’t get injured quite so often.

Now, if they change the 3 dirt classics to be run over 10 weeks instead of 5 – then you certainly can condition them like quarter horses with 4F works every 7 days, but that will never be the case in my lifetime (fingers crossed). Keep in mind, at this time 65% of early Derby favorites are injured following the ‘less is more’ approach:

In Mr. Jerkens own words from the Eclipse winning piece by Bill Finley entitled ‘Do We Need a Sturdier Racehorse?’:

“The biggest change in racing is that people are of the opinion that you shouldn’t run horses very often,” Jerkens said. “It used to be that if a horse was sound and hadn’t lost any weight from his last race and was feeling well, and if a race came up, you would run them. Now people for some reason think they shouldn’t run. I can’t understand it. I’ve had a lot of horses in my life who won real big races close together. What’s going on, it’s a fallacy.”

-Upcoming book reviews: Training Thoroughbred Horses by Preston Burch, and The Fit Racehorse II by Tom Ivers.

Anyone with comments/questions about these two works are most welcome to send them to me ahead of time, that way I can tailor the review post to address any high points.



About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on July 26, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Just an FYI: Jerkens didn’t plan to breeze the horse again on the 24th; the 22nd work was supposed to be 7 furlongs, and if the rider hadn’t fallen, the 24th work wouldn’t have happened. Might be of little significance to your overall point.

    • Thanks Teresa, I did note that in the post with an asterisk. I still think it is significant in spite of the rider dump that he came back just 2 days later with 7F, even though the aborted work was a quick 3F the week of the race. Also, he’s breezed with 3, 4, 5 days between works in the past. What would he do with an Uncle Mo type prospect? I don’t blame a 40 year old trainer who finds himself with an Uncle Mo for being overly cautious, but I don’t think an old timer would coddle him so. Hell, Pletcher gets 3-4 Uncle Mo types every year – turn the screws on one Todd and see what happens, he may just become a monster.

      Great work on tweeting the RCI Lasix stuff today, very interesting points from all sides. I simply fail to believe that Lasix is the only drug in the world with zero negative side effects, as many ‘horsemen’ claim. Give it to older horses all you wish in my opinion, but I have a problem with giving it to juveniles who need all the calcium they can muster to grow strong bones.

      Then again, when you have an owner/trainer/vet/journalist who solves his/her own physical problems (obesity, high blood pressure, etc.) with pills rather than diet and exercise – how can we be surprised with the desire to turn to the syringe at the track?

  2. Hi Bill
    Obviously you know I’m a huge promoter of training via the scientific method. I have read Tom Ivers book, Allan Davies book and check your site everyday for new material. My comments would be more directed at Tom Ivers methods. Unless you ride yourself or have your own track with salaried riders it is next to impossible follow his training regime. We have come up with a programme starting with four weeks base work followed by fishers program and carrying on with ideas pinched from Bill O’Gormans book. Following O’Gormans program is possibly easier to transfer to regular track work by having your rider implement both speed burts into the two mile work, ideally a swim for the horse in the afternoon. When you review these books please address the following; how can hobby trainers implement scientific training into traditional track work, how to respond to riders that comment that the horse is weak and to “turn it out to strenghten”, is their a blood lactate kit out their that is affordable for smaller trainers. Thanks, keep up the great articles, as I said I check it daily for new material.

    On to the progress of our filly that I have spoken to you about, we are just finishing up week two on the water treadmill and she has muscled up well. This saturday see’s us start the 2:45 miles and will start sending you the HR data.

    • Hey Aaron, I was just thinking about what you were up to today, sounds exciting in NZ! Looking forward to seeing some HR files. The rapid lactate analyzer I use is cheaper than the HRM/GPS, closer to US $549, however the test strips are still $3ea when bought in bulk. I will certainly include your points in upcoming reviews, thanks for reminding me of O’Gorman’s story, he’s a sharp tack over in Europe. Have you been using the STORM yet?

  3. I’m not married to any particular style of training, and have been most impressed, over several decades, with those trainers who tailor their training to the individual.

    With respect to Allen Jerkens, why don’t you ask him why, broadly speaking, he does not train and enter the way that he did thirty years ago? He’ll point out the obvious, which is that the breed is now more fragile.

    Now, that fact, in and of itself, does not necessarily undercut any particular training theory. But anyone who argues that U.S.-bred horses are as robust as ever, and that it is simply (or primarily) different training styles that account for the shocking decline in average starts per year and career, hasn’t a leg to stand on, in my view.

  4. nice post bill! for what its worth, over the years I observed that many trainers do a decent job getting young horses ready to race for race #1. After racing begins, different story with many of them, and, would, from limited opportunity to observe, have to include Jerkens in that. E.g. I am underwhelmed by Bold Warriors’ 9 days off from speed work between June 20 and the race, and then another 15 days to next breeze. That’s one speed work in 25 days, which was the race. And then he cranks up again for the next race. Good to see the old buzzard still going though. Inspiration! Will be interesting when we have some young trainers start using some of these methods such as O’Gorman against the likes of Plecher!

    • Glad to see that ratherrapid is “underwhelmed” by Allen Jerkens’ handling of a horse that he/she knows absolutely nothing about, other than published works.


  5. Phillip Haycock

    Hi Bill
    Your current choice of book reviews is an interesting one, for me anyway. These are two totally different men, period. Preston Burch was a Stockman/horseman of the highest order, he understood that to win one needs a winning organization, starting with good horses, good people (staff) good food, good business, good strategy, good shoes and poor competition.
    He could not have condensed Training Thoroughbred Horses into a book of any less than its 119 pages. This is a sign of a champion. “Efficient”

    The Fit Racehorse 11
    This is an important book, not because of its content but more because of the direction it points.
    If I remember correctly Tom Ivers does make the comment that one should take what they can from the book and run with it for themselves. This piece of honest advice in my view gives the book enough credibility to be on my bookshelf.
    This book is not written by a horseman or stockman, but by a pioneer with little more than an idea of a way that a real horseman may be able to train a horse.
    One of the comparisons that can be made of these two books is as stated already, Burch’s book could not be written with one less page. However Tom Ivers book could not be written with one page more.
    Still a very important book for those with High Speed Treadmills and advanced monitoring technology

    As note Bill, I realized that GPS HR monitors don’t work on treadmills. I need a Bicycle HR monitor. Its also interesting to note that human Monitors and horse ones are the same, just with different electrodes. This means that a treadmill setup can be done for about NZ$300. having said that , it requires that the larger electrodes need to be hand made which doesn’t bother me but isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

  6. Neither Allen Jerkens horse detailed above ran well, but his son utilized a similar program of long 7F breezes and won a nice race on the same Saratoga card.

    Getting the best out of the worst is the name of the game – anyone can get the best out of the best, or the worst out of the worst.

    Not saying either Jerkens gets junk necessarily, but certainly a grade of stock a few levels below a Pletcher.

  7. Thanks Tesio, that was fascinating. Here is another post from Mr. Haskin bemoaning the fact that our active Hall of Famers get junk stock while the QH cowboys get the good horses:

    I have no doubt that horses are more fragile nowadays and many cannot take this level of conditioning, I blame breeding, drugs, and cautious exercise patterns equally. However, in baseball – pitchers are also less hardy and more prone to injury than 50 years ago while throwing no faster, yet they are not on lasix nor selectively bred – just fat and lazy.

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