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Features - LEGENDS

House Rules breaking her maiden (Photo by Bob Coglinese Photos).

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Allen Jerkens no longer rides. Circus, a pony that was a gift from Marjorie Cordero before she was struck and killed by a car in January 2001, grew too old to bear weight approximately one year ago.

Jerkens, the famed “Giant Killer” who found ways to defeat Kelso in the 1960s and Secretariat in the 1970s, hopes to remind everyone that he can still train when he sends House Rules into the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

The race, a possible prep for the Kentucky Oaks, is one of seven graded stakes on a tremendous racing card headed by the $1 million Florida Derby. It would surely provide a highlight for fans if House Rules should prove she belongs among the top 3-year-old fillies.

BE THERE: See Wynonna Judd & The Big Noise LIVE at the 1st Annual Fillies and Lilies Party at the Kentucky Derby Museum on Oaks Night.

“We are just hoping,” said Jerkens after inviting a visitor into a golf cart he uses to motor around the backstretch at Gulfstream Park. “There is no sense making big statements. Everybody hopes to get a champion, but it is so hard.”

Jerkens, 84, understands the wrenching emotional swings that Thoroughbred racing can bring. In his 63rd year as a trainer, he understands the potential for injuries and heartbreak better than most. All of that makes him optimistic - yet wary - when he discusses House Rules. The daughter of Distorted Humor was purchased by Joseph Shields Jr. for $90,000 at the September Keeneland sale in 2012.

“Naturally, hope takes over when you have a young one and she is well-bred. You have to think positively and think she is going to be good,” Jerkens said. “A lot of times you look for things and they don’t happen.”

Past performances suggest House Rules is rounding into form at an ideal time. She rolled to her first career victory by 5 3/4 lengths in a one-mile race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 17. She followed that with a game runner-up finish in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream on Feb. 22, missing by 2 1/4 lengths in an encouraging defeat.

“When they finish second in a stakes race, you think they are going to keep improving. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t,” the trainer said. “She’s done things that make you think she should be good, in her workouts and everything else she does.”

JERKENS THROUGH THE YEARS

Jerkens, a native of Islip, N.Y., was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1975, having cemented his reputation as a “Giant Killer.” His Beau Purple defeated the legendary Kelso three times in 1962 and 1963. He brought down the seemingly invincible Secretariat with Onion in the Whitney Stakes (G1) and with Prove Out in the Woodward (G1) in 1973.

Horses are harder to come by these days. So are major victories. Jerkens oversees only nine horses after maintaining as many as 40. His last Grade 1 win occurred when Emma’s Encore ran down Judy the Beauty by a nose in the Prioress at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 4, 2012. His previous Grade 1 success had come in 2007, also at Saratoga.

Although Jerkens rebounded after undergoing open-heart surgery in October 2008, he does not lament the decrease in his business. He understands why owners would be drawn to young trainers on the rise. He speaks contentedly.

“I’m out here every day. I come back in the afternoon to see the horses walk in the sun,” he said. “I’m happy to be able to do that.”

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