Triple Crown Heroes: Count Fleet

Triple Crown Heroes: Count Fleet
Photo: Blood-Horse Publications
1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet takes the Kentucky Derby with style.

Editor's Note: In the sixth of 11 installments on previous Triple Crown winners, here is an excerpt from The Blood-Horse of Issue of June 12, 1943 on Count Fleet winning the Belmont Stakes to complete the Triple Crown.

Small fields are not new in the history of the Belmont Stakes, and the result of the seventy-fifth running ($25,000 added, 3-year-old colts and fillies, 1 1/2 miles) on June 5 was no more of a foregone conclusion than the renewel of 1920, when Man o' War was 1 to 20 to beat Donnacona, not much more than that of 1910 when only Duke of Ormonde contested Sweep's victory, or those of 1887 and 1888, when Hanover and Sir Dixon were the respective winners. But all of those races were run before the pari-mutuels. It is the judgment of the New York legislators that no horse can be worse than 1 to 20, and this price is the legal minimum. Since 5 per cent on one's capital in approximately 2 1/2 minutes appeals to one class of horseplayers, the Belmont Stakes of 1943 was not only a virtual walkover, it was worse: the track had a minus pool which cost $15,912.

Mrs. John D., Hertz's Count Fleet, of course, was the cause of the difficulty. The trainers of the 3-year-olds which chased him in the early season races have apparently seen the futility of it, and against him were arrayed Foxcatcher Farm's Fairy Manhurst, winner of a maiden race and a Class C allowance race, and Beverley Bogert's Deseronto, with only a maiden race to his credit. Each of the three had 126 pounds.

From the start, the race was only a question of whether Count Fleet would beat War Admiral's record in the race, or Bolingbroke's track record. He beat the one, missed the other. He took the lead out of the gate, picked up eight lengths in the first half-mile, built it to 20 in 10 furlongs and galloped down the stretch to win by 25. Fairy Manhurst, second all the way, had to be driven hard to beat Deseronto three-fourths of a length. This passed more or less unnoticed, while race-goers were waiting for the official time. It was 2:28 1/5, which was two-fifths of a second faster than War Admiral's record for the race (in Man o' War's day the race was at 1 3/8 miles), and four-fifths of a second slower than Bolingbroke's track record. The fractions were :23 3/5, :48, 1:12 3/5, 1:37 4/5, 2:03 3/5, 2:28 1/5, track fast. Stakes division, $35,340, $5,000, $2,500.

Count Fleet has materially improved on the record of his sire though it must be recorded that Reigh Count, after winning the Kentucky Derby, was out of action until Saratoga because of a cut suffered in a preparatory race. He is the sixth winner of the American triple crown, and he and Sir Barton are the only horses to add the Withers to the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. He has started 21 times, won 16 races, finished second four times, third once, and has earned $250,300. The victory moved him from twenty-second place among American money winners to eighteenth place, just behind Exterminator, just ahead of Man o' War. His record this year is six straight wins and $174,055 in earnings.

It was reported shortly after the race that Count Fleet had struck himself during the early running, and his left fore ankle was immediately X-rayed for possible serious injury, though the colt was walking soundly. The examination indicated that a slight wrench was all Count Fleet had suffered, and it seemed that all effects would be gone in a few day. The ankle filled slightly, soon subsided.

(Afternote: Count Fleet didn't run the remainder of 1943 and attempts to return him to racing the following year were unsuccessful. He entered stud in 1945 at John Hertz' Stoner Creek Stud near Paris, Ky. Eight years after his Triple Crown, a son, Count Turf, won the Run for the Roses to complete a male-line Derby triple. Another son, Counterpoint, took that year's Belmont, and another son, One Count, won the race the next year. Count Fleet, who lived to the ripe old age of 33, ranks No. 5 on The Blood-Horse's Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.)

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