Worse Than a Walkover
Small fields are not new in the history of the Belmont Stakes, and the result of the 75th 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 renewal 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 New York legislators that no horse can be worse than 1 to 20, and this price is the legal minimum. Since 5% 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 Race Course 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 22nd place among American money winners to 18th 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 days. The ankle filled slightly and soon subsided.