Larry Stumes, Special to The Chronicle
David Jerkens’ grandfather, Allen, is a Hall of Famer and regarded as one of the greatest horsemen of all time. His father, Steve, and uncle, James, also are successful trainers on the East Coast.
But instead of following them to the barn area, Jerkens went to the front office, and he recently was promoted to racing secretary at Golden Gate Fields.
"I helped my father when I was younger, but getting up at 5 a.m. every morning and working such a grind didn’t appeal to me," Jerkens said. "When I was going to college, I didn’t really want to be in racing at all. I wanted to be a sports announcer.
"But when I got out, I became reinvigorated in racing. When you grow up around it, you really can’t escape it."
Jerkens, 33, began his career as an entry clerk at the three major New York tracks – Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga – and also served as a placing judge. After 5 1/2 years there, Jerkens was hired in 2005 by then-Golden Gate Fields racing secretary Sean Greeley to be his assistant and stakes coordinator.
"I worked under many respected racing secretaries: Sean, P.J. Campo, Mike Lakow," Jerkens said. "I’m as prepared and as ready as I’ll ever be working under them."
The racing secretary is responsible for scheduling the types of races to be run – and recruiting the horses to fill them – and they are published in three-week segments called condition books. It allows trainers to anticipate races for their various classes of horses. The racing secretary also plans a track’s stakes schedule, subject to review by upper management and owners’ groups.
"With the shortage of horses, management looking to save money and the TOC (Thoroughbred Owners of California) hanging over your head, your hands are tied in so many ways," trainer Steve Specht said. "But I think David will do a good job."
Though Jerkens’ first condition book covers the first three weeks of the 101-day winter-spring season that begins today, his input on the stakes schedule is minimal because it was approved when Greeley was still racing secretary.
"I feel the product got a little stale the past few years," he said. "We’re approaching a long, laborious, six-months meeting, so as a staff, we have to be as creative and resourceful as possible.
"Hopefully, with some new claiming categories and starter allowances, it will help our field size in the long run. I’d definitely like to amend the stakes schedule because we’ve had an omission of certain categories."
Indeed, of the 10 stakes in the 25-week meeting – there were 15 stakes in nine weeks on the summer-fair circuit – seven are for 3-year-olds and one is for 2-year-olds. There are no stakes for sprinters or for older fillies and mares.
"This is all provided on how much handle we have and how much in purses we are allowed, but I’m hoping to add in a few overnight stakes when I see fit," Jerkens said.
Jerkens has impressed trainer John F. Martin.
"I like this guy a lot," Martin said. "He put in some changes in the new book that I like a lot and it looks like he’s trying to make changes for the better."