Updated 08/04/2012 08:09 PM
The Spa Spot: Emma's Encore wins the Grade 1 Prioress
Allen Jerkens and jockey Junior Alvarado
There may be bigger, more important victories at Saratoga this summer, but none will be as popular as trainer Allen Jerkens' win with Emma's Encore in the Grade 1 Prioress Saturday.
Emma's Encore reached the front on the last jump before the wire to win the $300,000 race and give the 83-year-old Hall of Famer his first Grade 1 win in five years. Jerkens' last win at racing's highest level came with Miss Shop in the 2007 Personal Ensign at Saratoga Race Course.
Many people in the crowd cheered for Jerkens and called his name as he stood in the winner's circle. Typically, his eyes were red-rimmed from the emotion and he said he appreciated the applause.
“It’s nice," he said. "It’s what breaks me up.”
Jerkens saddled two winners at Saratoga in his father's name in 1949 and picked up his first Spa victory on his own on August 9, 1951 with a horse named Basis. He has won dozens of races at Saratoga through the decades - the most famous was Onion's victory over Triple Crown winner Secretariat in the 1973 Whitney - and in 1972 was the leading trainer at the meet with 19 victories in 24 days.
Emma's Encore brought Jerkens back to the winner's circle after an important race by a nose. The Congrats filly rallied from last to first under Junior Alvarado and caught Judy the Beauty at the wire. She completed the six furlongs in 1:09.35 and paid $12.40 to win.
The scratch of Jamaican Smoke removed a very fast horse from the mix and the slower early fractions compromised Emma's Encore's chances.
Jerkens said he enjoyed the victory and was looking forward to having a jockey statue in the Grade 1 gallery surrounding the fountain outside the Wright Street clubhouse entrance next year.
“Like the old days," he said. "We're going to get a jockey in front of the clubhouse again. I always liked to get a jockey in front of the clubhouse with our colors on it.
Jerkens said the feeling that comes from winning a race never gets old.
"In the morning," he said, "when you don’t see anything good in your barn, it gets old."
Jerkens smiled at the question of whether the filly owned by Brenda Mercer and Peter Berglar was the best horse in his barn.
“Oh, sure, a lot the best," he said. "But one might come up. Maybe we’ll have a 2-year-old who might be better. That’s what keeps you going. That’s why you get up every morning.”
Emma's Encore established herself as a graded stakes horse with a victory in the Grade 3 Victory Ride on July 7 at odds of 39-1. Jerkens said she has continued to improve.
"She had to run her very best," he said. "[Junior Alvarado] has been good. It all counts. Everything has to go well. The horse has to run good, the horse has to be good, has to be fit enough. She really had to run today. Nothing was in her favor today, looking at the late scratch. It looked like speed was holding on pretty good.”