Biggest Events in Sports The Kentucky Derby Part 3 History

About the Kentucky Derby horse race, history of major highlights in the sporting event held at Churchill Downs.




1951 The horse's name was Count Turf. The owner was Jack Amiel, and the jockey was Conn McCreary. Together the three of them pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Kentucky Derby history.

A son of the great Count Fleet (the 1943 derby winner) and the grandson of Reigh Count (who won the 1928 derby), Count Turf failed to live up to his pedigree as a two-year-old, and his three-year-old campaign was lackluster at best. Still, owner Amiel wanted to win a Kentucky Derby and he was convinced Count Turf was the horse that could do it for him. No one else gave the animal any chance at all. In fact, Sol Rutchick, who trained Count Turf, flatly refused to have anything to do with what he considered a hopeless pipe dream.

Jack Amiel was adamant, however, and Rutchick suggested he get George "Slim" Sulley, who had trained some excellent horses during his career. In 1951 Sulley was 70 years old and in semiretirement, but he took the job. Now all Amiel needed was a jockey.

Experts everywhere--from the sports desks of the country's biggest newspapers to the fans in the stands--were sure Amiel was wasting his time. And any doubts they may have had vanished completely when Amiel announced his jockey selection.

Conn McCreary had been one of the best jockeys in the country for a number of years, but he had recently fallen on hard times. Word got around that the once daring, often brilliant rider had lost his nerve. He had been spending the current racing season exercising horses in the mornings and taking a ride whenever he could. The winning rider of Pensive in the 1944 derby, McCreary jumped at the opportunity to ride Count Turf--long shot or not.

A full field of 20 went to the gate on May 5, 1951, and Count Turf was ignored by almost everyone at the betting windows, and he left the gate a 16-1 long shot. The favorite of the betting public was Battle Morn, ridden by Eddie Arcaro. Second favorite was Fanfare, bred by Calumet Farm. When the gates flew open, Count Turf got off slowly. Seventeen horses broke in front of him. Before long, though, he was running eleventh, with a clear shot at the lead even with so big a field. A horse called Repertoire was in the lead when McCreary asked Count Turf to run. Run he did, gobbling up ground with each stride as first one and then another horse fell into his wake. At the top of the stretch, Count Turf was already a length and a half the best, and he went on to win the 77th Kentucky Derby by four lengths, the favorites running fifth and sixth.

Jack Amiel realized a dream, McCreary's career got a new boost, and a 70-year-old trainer and a three-year-old colt helped complete a script written, not in Hollywood, but in Louisville, Ky., on Derby Day.

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