Mar 2nd 2010 07:28 pm |
Last week, I did an article that started with the 1952 Kentucky Derby. Coincidentally, this week, I have a post about the 1951 Kentucky Derby. Count Turf — like Canonero, Mine That Bird, and Dark Star — was a nondescript colt and many questioned his entry in the ’51 Derby, including his trainer.
After Count Turf finished 5th in the Wood Memorial, trainer Sol Rutchick resisted his owner’s desire to run in the Kentucky Derby. Count Turf’s owner, Jack Amiel, reportedly told his trainer, “Well, get a plane and give me a man to saddle the horse for the race and we’ll go without you.”
And so it was, Rutchick never made it to Churchill. He said later he had every intention to go, but missed his flight the morning of the race. According one account, he listened to the race in his apartment, with a plane ticket to Kentucky in his pocket.
In 1967, the Turf and Sport Digest published a story called “Jack Amiel’s Big Day,” about Count Turf and his owner. The article begins with an account of Amiel, and Count Turf’s jockey Conn McCreaery, encountering famed jockey Eddie Arcaro the night before the big day.
Here is part of author Herb Goldstein’s piece from 1967:
“On the eve of the 1951 Kentucky Derby, Eddie Arcaro was battling a steak in Louisville’s Old House when he was joined by Jack Amiel, Conn McCreary, and a sports writer.
“Arcaro, who was to handle Cain Hoy [stable’s] favored Battle Morn in the Run for the Roses the next afternoon, asked candidly, ‘Who do you like?’
“‘Are you kidding? I like my horse,’ Amiel cracked. ‘I’m going to win it.’
“‘You’re nuts,’ Arcaro said.
“McCreary, who had ridden only four winners that season after having retired from the saddle the previous year, gave his opinion.
“‘He’s right Eddie,’ declared Conn. ‘We are going to win.’
“‘You’re both nuts,’ Arcaro stated emphatically, and went back to his beef.
“The sports writer, who had been Amiel’s guest for ten days in Louisville, secretly agreed with Arcaro. Unknown to his host, he had picked C.V. Whitney’s Mameluke to win the next day. He was convinced Arcaro was right in his estimate of Amiel and McCreary as soothsayers.
“Amiel, who owned a New York frankfurters-and-hamburger pit named The Turf on the corner of West 49th Street and Broadway, also was the proprietor of a three-year-old named Count Turf, which was named for the hash house. Picking McCreary to ride his horse seemed a union of unusual distinction. McCreary had nothing but past as jockey and Count Turf had no future. In fact, McCreary with his four wins, had three more than Amiel’s horse that season.
“Seventy-nine writers on hand to cover the Derby had been polled by the Associated Press and not one had selected Amiel’s colt to finish in the top three. The Churchill Downs’ price-maker had placed the colt in the mutuel field, a move which at least meant he would get some play.
“Sol Rutchick, who trained the colt for Amiel, wasn’t even in town, though he was expected to saddle Count Turf for the race. Rutchick…was in New York with the other 24 members of his public string. [as mentioned above, he never made it to Louisville]
“Arcaro had one parting blast before leaving the restaurant. ‘Jack,’ he announced, ‘Count Turf just isn’t the kind of horse you bring to the Derby.’
Jack Amiel’s colt, with his washed-up jockey, shocked Arcaro and everyone else on Derby day. The Daily Racing Form’s Charles Hatton saw it this way:
“Count Turf amazed perhaps the largest crowd that ever saw a horse race in America when he surged out of the dust curving for home and won the richest of all the Kentucky Derbys by four decisive lengths. J.J. Amiel’s colt was one of the ‘mutuel field,’ but he left the choices up the stretch…The New York restauranteur’s surprising son of the Derby winner Count Fleet earned $98,050 for running the historic mile and a quarter in a 2:02 3/5 in dry going and returned those who played the mutuel coupling $31.20…
“…Little Conn McCreary, who had won the 1944 Derby on Pensive, had the mount on the sleek bay and gave him the benefit of a well-judged ride…
“…The tremendous throng that filled every nook and cranny of the Downs, to the stable roofs along the backstretch, sensed that this would one of the best shows in Derby history and they weren’t disappointed. Though the winner came from an unexpected quarter, he was given a splendid ovation, from the time McCreary guided him up the flower-bordered path to the charmed circle until Governor Wetherby of Kentucky presented Amiel the Derby’s gold trophy…”
Eddie Arcaro, who told Count Turf’s owner that he didn’t belong in the race, finished a non-threatening sixth aboard the post time favorite Battle Morn. The chart caller used the coldest terms in his arsenal to describe the effort of Arcaro’s mount: “no excuse.”
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
Hatton, Charles, “Count Turf Gains Stunning Derby Triumph,” Daily Racing Form, May 7, 1951
Goldstein, Herb, “Jack Amiel’s Big Day,” Turf and Sport Digest, August 1967
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!