Memories of 1951 Kentucky Derby winner Count Turf

Mar 16th 2013 01:00 pm |

Updated 2/18/2013

One of my favorite things about Colin’s Ghost is the growing collection of comments from racing people left on the site. The comments have ranged in content from long debates over the merits of one great horse or another to corrections where I have goofed a fact here or there. Far and away my favorite comments are those left by people with connections to significant moments and horses in racing history.

The post with the best “pedigree” at Colin’s Ghost is found on an article I did in 2010 about Count Turf, the 1951 Kentucky Derby winner. Commenters on the post have included the children of Count Turf’s owner, Jack Amiel, and the son of his jockey, Conn McCreary. Just last month, a man whose father was the nephew of Count Turf’s breeder (Frank Miller) left a comment on the post, writing that he had been hearing about the story of Count Turf for over 50 years.

Owner Jack Amiel’s son wrote this in response to a comment left by jockey Conn McCreary’s son:

I remember your dad with great affection. He often rode my dad’s horses, but my most vivid recollection is greeting him and my dad with my mother and sister when their train from Louisville arrived at Penn Station. My dad insisted on opening the wooden case carrying the Derby cup for us all to see. He and your dad had been staring at it in their train compartment all the way to New York.

Mr. Amiel also offers an interesting perspective on the absence of Count Turf’s trainer, Sol Rutchik, from Louisville on Derby day. Read it here

Jack Amiel was the owner of a well-known restaurant among the racing crowd in New York City. Amiel’s “Turf Restaurant” was located in Times Square, on Broadway between 49th and 50th, next to Jack Dempsey’s, a restaurant founded and owned by the famed heavyweight champion. In the 1950s, a few years after Count Turf won the Kentucky Derby, Amiel sold “The Turf” and became part-owner of Jack Dempsey’s restaurant. Conn McCreary rode Count Turf in 1951 and his daughter left this story at Colin’s Ghost last year:

I met Jack Amiel years later as an adult, and you would have thought we had been friends for years. I got a call from my father that Jack wanted to see me at the restaurant, Jack Dempsey’s. There was a mural of the [1951 Kentucky Derby] winner’s circle that he wanted me to have. Unfortunately, it was impossible to remove. The restaurant was closing it’s doors. He did give me one of the last, best cheese cakes ever. Jack was a class act.

I would love to see a photograph of the mural — I’m sure one exists somewhere. I found an issue of Look Magazine from 1954 that has interior images at Dempsey’s. I’m working on tracking down a copy to see if it includes a photo of the mural.

I have a recording of the 1951 Gillette Calvacade of Sports broadcast of the Kentucky Derby that can be heard below. It’s interesting to listen to the pre-race coverage to hear how Count Turf gets totally disregarded during the rundown of the entries. The clip includes the legendary Mel Allen as the primary on-air voice and Clem McCarthy on the mic for the description of the field coming on the track and the call of the race.

[Note: The pre-race recording includes some interference and cuts off abruptly]:
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Kentucky Derby, Pre-Race Coverage, 1951 Kentucky Derby, Pre-Race Coverage, 1951
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Kentucky Derby, Race Call by Clem McCarthy, 1951 Kentucky Derby, Race call by Clem McCarthy, 1951
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I also found this newsreel on YouTube of the 1951 Kentucky Derby that shows Count Turf pulling away in the stretch with stunning slow motion footage of his run to the finish line. For a field horse, who didn’t appear to have much of a shot, he won without a challenge by four lengths.  Watch it here

Revisit the article that inspired this one and be sure to check out the comments section.

The 1986 New York Times obituary for Jack Amiel

The 1979 obituary for Conn McCreary from the Ocala Star-Banner

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Amiel, Jack,Count Turf,Kentucky Derby,thoroughbred racing history



3 Responses to “Memories of 1951 Kentucky Derby winner Count Turf”

  1. George Derry III says:

    Kevin,
    Your web posts are a joy to read.
    I would like to submit a slight correction about Frank Miller.
    Dr Frank Miller was my fathers uncle. He was an all breed dog judge of national repute. Also my dad told me Dr Miller was an inspiration for my dad to study medicine and go on to become a heart surgeon of his own repute in southern California.
    George Derry III

  2. Kevin says:

    Hello Mr Derry: Thank you for the correction and the kind words. The article has been updated. Best wishes, Kevin

  3. Sheila Ann Wade says:

    I was born (according to family lore) when Count Turf crossed the finish line in 1951. My birth announcement read, “Another Derby winner!”

    I just found his grave and may visit it from Upper Darby, PA the next time I visit my son in Frederick, MD.

    Wondering if any of his offspring are competing on Saturday?

    Sheila Wade