When Emma’s Encore walks onto the track at Keeneland this afternoon for the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America, she will, in a sense, be coming home. She was sold for $22,000 at the Keeneland September sale in 2010; she ran here as a two-year-old; and her owners both live in the Bluegrass.
Their proximity may well be why this Allen Jerkens trainee is running at Keeneland; the New York-based trainer is not known for shipping his horses to Kentucky, and his record here isn’t exactly encouraging. His Keeneland starters in the last 20 years can be counted on one hand, and his best finish is a third with Teammate in the 2007 Spinster. In 2008, Any Limit finished sixth in the TCA.
On a chilly Saturday morning, Emma’s Encore jogged on the training track, assistant trainer Fernando Abreu said; Jerkens, the Chief, is home in New York. Abreu said that both Shelley Ulrich, the Lexington resident who purchased the Congrats filly, and Peter Berglund, whose Stonereath Farm is in nearby Paris and who bought into Emma’s Encore after she broke her maiden at Gulfstream in February, spent Friday at the barn with their Grade 1 winner.
Ulrich and her mother, Brenda Mercer, transferred Emma’s Encore to Jerkens over the winter; she got her first win in her second start for the Chief, and this summer, she became a graded stakes winner when she took the Grade III Victory Ride at Belmont at 39-1. She followed up that performance with a nose win in the Grade I Prioress at Saratoga.
She finished sixth in her last start, the Grade II Gallant Bloom at Belmont two weeks ago. She was ridden that day by Rosie Napravnik, substituting for the injured Junior Alvarado, who had written her to her stakes victories. Alvarado is back in the saddle this afternoon.
She faces stiff competition in the 4-5 favorite Groupie Doll, coming into the race on a three-race win streak, all in graded stakes races, all by generous margins. In two races at Keeneland, she’s got a win and a loss by head.
Emma’s Encore is the 5-1 second choice, and she’s got her work cut out for her, but as Jerkens is fond of saying, they pay pretty good for second and third. Then again, they don’t call him the Giant Killer for nothing, and Emma’s Encore is four-for-five at the TCA’s six furlongs.
While Berglar regularly attends Emma’s Encore’s races, Ulrich hasn’t been to any of her recent starts. It’s hard to get away from the mares and foals on her farm, she said after the Prioress win, then added with a laugh, “She runs better when we stay way,” admitting that it’s hard not to be there to watch.
With her filly practically in her backyard, though, she’s expected to be at Keeneland this afternoon, along with her mother. Berglar will be there, too, and of course Abreu, whose praises Berglar and Ulrich never cease singing.
“I really wanted [the Prioress win] for Allen and Fernando,” said Ulrich in August.
They got that win, and maybe today, they can get another one.
More here, from August, on Emma’s Encore came to the Jerkens barn.