Seven weeks ago Allen Jerkens suffered one of the rare embarrassments of his illustrious training career. He entered a highly regarded animal named Hechizado against the best horses in New York, loved his chances and watched him finish a distant last.
Jerkens could not find an excuse or an explanation for that 26-length defeat. But instead of running the horse against more modest opposition, Jerkens decided to train him expressly for the prestigious $230,500 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont.
He did a training job that would have earned him admission to the Racing Hall of Fame if he weren't enshrined there already. Today Hechizado demolished his competition, winning by four lengths over The Liberal Member, running 1 1/2 miles in a brilliant 2:26. He left the champion Temperence Hill, 17 lengths behind him.
In the last two weeks, Jerkens put Hechizado through a remarkable training schedule designed to build his stamina for the Brooklyn's demanding distance. Hechizado worked 1 1/8 miles twice, then 1 1/4 miles -- a demanding regimen.
Of the 10 horses who went to the post in the Brooklyn, there were nine stretch runners and one speed horse: Hechizado. Favorites Temperence Hill and Highland Blade were both one-dimensional plodders.
"Allen told me to go to the front and try to slow it down as much as possible," jockey Ruben Hernandez said Hernandez hustled Hechizado out of the gate, angled to the rail and then let him relax, cruising the first half-mile in a slow :49 2/5.
After the leader had gone a mile, the field started to converge on him. The Liberal Member made a strong move along the rail, while Highland Blade accelerated on the outside. But Hernandez said, "When this horse runs by himself, he gets stronger. He had a lot left."
Running the last quarter-mile in :24 2/5 Hechizado drew away from the Liberal Member and tied the stakes record for the Brooklyn.
Hechizado paid $14.20, $8.80 and $8.20. The Liberal Member returned $7.20 and $6. Peat Moss paid $7.80 to show.
Hechizado had raced in Panama through the end of last season, winning practically everything against that country's weak competition, and came here earlier this year. He won his first two starts impressively then came that inexplicable last place finish in the Metropolitan.
His victory today was part of a great Jerkens' tradition: scoring upsets with front-runners in distance races. He trained the sprinter Beau Purple to defeat the great champion Kelso three times. He scored victories over Secretariat twice, with Onion and Prove Out.
His victims today were not so mighty. The best known horse in the field. Temperence Hill, suffered a considerable loss of reputation. Two weeks ago he won the Suburban Handicap and defeated top-class horses for the first time in his career.