Count Turf was sired by Triple Crown winner, Count Fleet, becoming the third Derby winner in a three generation family tree. The bay colt was out of the winning mare Delmarie, by Pompey. Bred by Dr. and Mrs. Frank Porter Miller, Count Turf was foaled in Kentucky at the Hertz’s Stoner Creek Stud where the Millers kept their mares. Once he was weaned, the youngster was shipped to California to the Miller Ranch. After some time to grow, he was then sent to Saratoga for the summer yearling sale, at which point he was sold to restaurateur J. Jack Amiel for $3700.
At 2, he managed to win the Dover Stakes; however he finished unplaced in his 7 starts prior to running in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Sol Rutchick was an immigrant who got his start in horse racing as an owner before applying for his trainer’s license. As the horse was getting ready to prepare for the Derby, Sol sent his assistant, Slim Sulley, to Kentucky while he stayed in New York to tend to his string of horses there. He didn’t feel his horse had much of a chance, so when his wife became ill he stayed put. After a phone call from Amiel telling Rutchick that his colt was training lights out, Rutchick tried to get a plane to Louisville, but missed his flight.
Count Turf’s record wasn’t anything that would lead anyone to believe that he would do much in the Kentucky Derby; as a result, the Triple Crown winner’s son was lumped in with the mutuel field for wagering, going off as the 9th choice. The poor horse was so overlooked, that his farrier couldn’t find his barn, leading to the colt not getting reshod before the race. One of those shoes would come off during the running of the race.
The 77th Kentucky Derby would be viewed by over 100,000 spectators who had journeyed to the Louisville oval for the great race. In attendance were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, for whom the 3 bands in the infield played “God Save the Queen”. Though it was cloudy, it didn’t rain, with the track staying fast. 20 horses would contest the wide-open race, with 1944 winner Pensive’s jockey, Conn McCreary, piloting Count Turf. Breaking slow, the tandem would run towards the back of the pack early on, getting bumped as they were going around the first turn. When they reached the backstretch, Count Turf started passing horses, with only 3 horses in front by the time they reached the far turn. Taking over at the 3/8 marker, the longshot pair powered to the front, passing under the wire in front of the 53-1 Royal Mustang by 4 lengths at the finish, in a time of 2:02 3/5. Becoming the second of three horses to win the race as part of the field (following 1925 Flying Ebony’s win, and prior to Canonero II’s victory) the winner paid a nice $31.20. Amiel, so thrilled that his horse won, gave McCreary $1000 for each of his 4 children in addition to his 10% of the $98,050 purse.
The 1951 Kentucky Derby marked the first time that the winning jockey was given a trophy. Injured in the Belmont while finishing unplaced, the colt recovered to race another two seasons, with his biggest victory coming in the Questionnaire Handicap. Count Turf would be retired to stand at Almahurst and then Elmhurst farms in Kentucky, before eventually standing at Windy Hills Farm in Maryland. He would sire 411 winners, among them stakes winners Little Manassa and Manassa Mauler, who was named after Amiel’s friend and business partner, boxer Jack Dempsey. Count Turf would pass away in 1966 and be buried at the Windy Hills Farm.
(Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Museum archives)