Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens has always downplayed his reputation as "The Giant Killer." Bring up his history of upsets, including Onion's defeat of Triple Crown winner Secretariat in Saratoga's Whitney in 1973, and Jerkens will say he was merely trying to take advantage of the opportunity to strike at the right time with a fit horse.
Saturday afternoon, "The Chief" took advantage of rainy weather and a sloppy Aqueduct Park track to unleash Joseph Allen's Saint Verre, who posted an 8½-length gate-to-wire victory over Windsor Castle in the $117,500 Fort Marcy Handicap. The Fort Marcy was scheduled at 1 1/16 mile on turf, but rain Friday night and all day Saturday forced it to the main track and cost the race its grade III status for this running. It also accounted for nine scratches, leaving eight to run. Jockey Jose Espinoza, who rode Saint Verre carrying 113 pounds, sent his mount to the lead and the 5-year-old Saint Ballado horse did the rest. He was comfortable as he loped through the opening quarter mile in :23 1/5 and the half in :46, with Onthedeanslist close behind. But on the turn, Saint Verre simply outran everyone and put the issue to rest. He came home in 1:33 3/5 for his first victory in four starts this year, ending a five-race losing streak. His last win came in the Cliff Hanger at The Meadowlands on Oct. 11, on a sloppy track. "That was a surprise," Jerkens said after the Fort Marcy. "He really likes firm ground and this was the fastest track he's seen in a long time. He could run well on firm turf, also. We have a lot of options with him." Espinoza figured the way to ride was to put Saint Verre to the lead early. "I was hoping he would break good, which he did," Espinoza said. "He's pretty quick. I just wanted to get him to the front. I was confident around the far turn; I knew I had a lot of horse. When I asked him to run, he really took off." Judge's Case was third in the Fort Marcy, followed by the Jerkens-trained Puzzlement, who ran uncoupled from Saint Verre. Post-time favorite Classic Endeavor trailed.
"I didn't see the break too well, but he didn't break very swiftly," said trainer Scott Schwartz of Classic Endeavor. "It's a real speed track. I knew 10 jumps into the race that we weren't going to be able to play catch up.Twenty-three and forty-six is slow for these horses." Bred in Florida by Georgelina Gonzalez, Saint Verre earned $72,000 for the victory, his sixth in 23 starts. He improved his career earnings to $359,680.Saint Verre paid $14.80, $7.60 and $5.50. Windsor Castle returned $8.50 and 6. Judge's Case's show price was $4.80. The $2 exacta paid $86.50.(Chart, Equibase)