I must have looked like a crazy man," said Allen Jerkens, the 33-year-old trainer of Beau Purple last week, not long after his horse had won the $105,200 mile-and-a-quarter Suburban Handicap at New York's Aqueduct racetrack. "Once I saw my horse go under the finish line I started walking around in circles. My mouth was open but I couldn't say anything. My eyes filled up and, oh well, I was just plain flabbergasted."
There were 52,000 other people at Aqueduct who were just as flabbergasted when Beau Purple executed one of the biggest racing upsets of modern times by beating Kelso, Carry Back and Garwol in America's top handicap race. "The Suburban," the late Joe H. Palmer once wrote, "is the pearl of the handicaps. There are a few handicaps with more money. But there is no other with such a whispering down the years—'Henry of Navarre, Ben Brush, Beldame, Friar Rock, Grey Lag, Crusader, Equipoise, Eight Thirty, Armed, Assault." [Also Tom Fool, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Sword Dancer and Kelso himself.] There's no owner with money enough to stay in the game, but would rather have the Suburban Trophy than a handful of richer races."
The 76th Suburban was primarily to be the meeting ground for Kelso (the only horse since Whirlaway to be twice named Horse of the Year) and Carry Back (one of four horses in history ever to win over $1 million). Both Kelso and Carry Back ran well, but Beau Purple, abetted by Allen Jerkens and Bill Boland—the most successful trainer and jockey team in racing this year—stole the race.
When Jerkens and Boland started winning races together at last winter's Tropical Park meeting in Florida hardly an eyebrow was raised. After all, Tropical is one of the smaller racing rooms. This spring, however, they began to get winners in the biggest room of all, Aqueduct. In the first nine days of the meeting they won eight races and by the time the meeting had ended, Jerkens led all the trainers with 31 winners, and Boland had ridden 28 of them. When the horses moved to Belmont Park, Jerkens again led the trainers with 11 winners and Boland was on five of them. A bad spill, which set him afoot for a week, cost him more.
A big horse
At the end of last week Jerkens, with 46 winners, was high atop the trainers' standings with no one even close to him, and Boland, who had been depressed and singularly unsuccessful for the last two seasons in New York, was the third-leading rider, with 63 winners.
While Boland and Jerkens were certainly winning races this year, they still needed a "big horse" to focus national attention on them. A month ago Jack Dreyfus Jr., a Wall Street broker, gave them that big horse, Beau Purple, a 5-year-old brown stallion. Beau had won the Derby Trial in 1960 but injured himself and never got to the Derby. In 1961 he couldn't win in four starts, and this season he couldn't beat top company or stretch himself out over a distance greater than a mile and one-eighth.
Stretching horses out and moving them up in company has been one of Jerkens' trademarks since he began training in 1950 at the age of 21. In May 1955 he claimed a horse named War Command for $8,000. War Command had trouble going a mile and one-sixteenth but Jerkens kept extending him, and at the end of 1955 War Command won the two-mile-and-one-sixteenth Display Handicap, Jerkens' first stake win. Late in 1955 Jerkens claimed Admiral Vee for $7,500 and won over $250,000 with the colt.
In the last few seasons Jerkens' reputation was growing, and Jockey Boland's was diminishing. This same Boland, at the age of 17, had won the 1950 Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes with Middleground. "I didn't know," he says today, "the importance of winning a Derby then. I guess about two weeks later it struck me and I woke up in the middle of the night and said, 'Oh! my God! Oh, my God! I won the Derby.' "
The Kentucky Derby of 1959, however, gave Boland only bad dreams and gave others some bad ideas about him. Riding Sword Dancer, Boland pulled alongside of Tomy Lee and Willie Shoemaker at the five-sixteenths pole. Shoemaker hollered, "Good luck, Bill, go get it." Boland did not get it. Shoemaker kept riding and won over Boland by a desperate nose. "I never got to ride Sword Dancer again," says Boland. "I was hurt and bothered."
He went back to New York after the Derby, didn't ride well at all and decided to move to Hollywood Park in California. He finished fourth in the jockey standings there, but when he returned to New York in July he again slumped badly. In August at Saratoga he won only four races in four weeks.
"When the entries came out"
It got tougher year by year for Boland to get good mounts. Of the 297 stake races run in this country in 1961 with values of $20,000 or over, Boland rode in only 34. Average odds on a Boland horse were 26 to 1, and 15 of them finished last or next to last. He won but one.
Last Thursday morning Boland was asked by a young apprentice boy, "When did you think you had the Suburban won?" Boland smiled and said, "When the entries came out."
Actually when the entries did come out, Boland and Jerkens sat down over their morning breakfast in the back-stretch restaurant at Aqueduct and plotted their strategy. "We'll go to the front," said Jerkens. "But, Bill, what will you do if Garwol tries to run with you?"
"Run him down," said Boland. "I don't think that he has as much speed as Beau Purple. I don't think he can stay with Beau Purple."
When the gate opened in the Suburban, Beau Purple slammed against the side of his stall but Boland pushed his mount to the lead. At the end of six furlongs Beau Purple was three lengths in front, carrying the target and the opposition waited for Beau Purple to come back. Beau Purple never did come back and won by two and one-half lengths in 2:00 3-5, track record time. Boland and Jerkens got the national attention they deserved and everyone knew that the best trainer-jockey combination around today had stolen one of racing's most prized trophies—and a little matter of $68,380, as well.