Barn Notes

Ben Perkins Jr. - Penn Grad Enjoying Horse Racing Passion

Posted Sunday, Aug 26, 2012

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By Lynne Snierson 

  

            OCEANPORT, N.J. - When his classmates at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business were reading the Wall Street Journal, Ben Perkins, Jr. studied the Daily Racing Form. No wonder he chose Thoroughbred racing as his profession. 

             “In my junior and senior years at Penn, I worked every weekend at the old Garden State Park parking cars,” said Perkins, who is the son of noted horseman Ben Perkins, Sr. “I used to bring my friends to the track and get them interested in racing. All of the kids I went to school with would now be the ones who own the horses. I’m the only one who trains them.” 

            Perkins and Canadian-based Mark Frostad, who has a degree in literature from Princeton University, may be the only Ivy League graduates in North America conditioning horses for a living. A fellow Penn alumnus had an early and lasting influence on Perkins. 

            “When I was a kid, my dad was always stabled in barn 1 at Monmouth Park. We were on the backside of the barn and Mr. (Jimmy) Croll had the front side,” said Perkins, who oversees a current stable of 30 horses from barn 15 at the track. “So I grew up around Bet Twice, Holy Bull and his other really good horses.” 

            Bet Twice, who to this day has a large plaque in his honor mounted on what was Croll’s side of barn 1, won the Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational in 1987 and Holy Bull captured the Haskell and Horse of the Year honors in 1994. Holy Bull and Croll helped each other earn induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga, New York. 

            Perkins may have learned a few lessons from watching Croll, but his father was his best, and favorite, professor. 

            “My dad was an exercise rider before he was a trainer. He did it all. He had a good stable and he did well,” said Perkins, Jr., who is often visited at the track by his father.  

            The elder Perkins saddled 1981 Haskell winner Five Star Flight and trained on the Mid-Atlantic circuit for more than 50 years. He saddled four Breeders’ Cup starters and one of his main clients was Ebby Novak of New Farm in New Jersey. Just over 10 years ago, the younger Perkins took over the reigns of New Farm and the transition has been seamless. 

            New Farm homebreds Delaware Township, Wildcat Heir and Wild Gams are among Perkins, Jr.’s five Breeders’ Cup entrants and Wild Gams represented them and the New Jersey-bred program in the inaugural running of the Filly & Mare Sprint at Monmouth in 2007. Grade 1 stakes winner Wildcat Heir, whose stellar career was cut short by injury, now stands in Florida and has become a top sire. 

            “Wildcat Heir is the nicest good horse I’ve ever had. He had the best disposition,”  said Perkins, who was Monmouth’s leading trainer in 2000 after finishing second in the standings the year before. “He’s done so well as a stallion, but we were all so worried about how he would do because he was so calm, so kind and so nice. He was such a beautiful horse, and such a good one.” 

            The influence of Wildcat Heir as a stallion is evident in the Perkins barn. Most of the current runners have a variation of Wildcat, Heir or Forest, for Forest Wildcat who sired Wildcat Heir and Wild Gams, in their names. But a half-brother to Wildcat Heir has a distinctly unique moniker. 

            “This is The Hunk, and isn’t he a hunk?” Perkins asked while showing off the beautifully conformed New Farm homebred who won the 2012 edition of the John J. Reilly Handicap at Monmouth. “We named him that because he was such an outstanding looking foal. I like to go to the farm and look at the yearlings. I’ve got graded stakes winners now whose mothers and fathers I trained and that’s pretty cool.”  

            Any discussion of Perkins’ top horses must include Joey P., one of the most popular horses to ever set his hooves on the racing strip at Monmouth.  

            The John Petrini homebred won over $1 million during a career that spanned from 2004 to 2011 and Joey P. will be paraded on the track and honored in a winner’s circle celebration as part of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival here on September 15. 

            “He was amazing,” Perkins said while pointing to a collection of the horse’s many stakes win photos on the barn wall. “His father was just an ordinary claimer and I think they got the mare for nothing, but he turned out to be really something special. He always overcame different injuries and that horse was loaded with charisma.” 

            Among Joey P.’s wins are the 2006, 2008 and 2009 runnings of the John J. Reilly, which is restricted to state-breds, and the 2005 edition of the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Stakes. This year, Perkins took the Grade 3 Jersey Shore with Well Spelled for his second stakes win thus far during the meet. 

            “The horses are running well,” said Perkins, who was ranked seventh in the trainer’s standings through August 24 with 14 victories from 70 starts at Monmouth. “I’ve got a lot of Jersey-breds and a couple of New Farm homebreds who are doing really well. I’ll take 10 or 12 horses to New York in the fall and then go to Gulfstream Park in the winter.” 

            Chris Gardiner will be right there with Perkins. They grew up together before Gardiner signed on as his assistant after he graduated from Moravian College. 

            “Chris has been with me for a long time. He and my wife, Susan, went to college together and he introduced us when she was getting her master’s degree in clinical social work at Rutgers (University). Chris also has a master’s degree. He got his in public administration from American (University). Susan does a lot of counseling and that comes in pretty handy around here. I think our only problem in the barn is that we’ve got too much education,” Perkins said with a hearty laugh. 

            One thing he is convinced of is that he is making the best use of his Ivy League economics degree. Through August 25, he has 1,381 winners and they have earned close to $39 million in purses. 

            “What would I be doing if not training horses? I honestly don’t know,” he said after pondering the question for a few moments. “And if I can’t even think of anything else, that’s how I know I am doing the right thing.” 

             


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