WARTIME HERO


Count FleetOn June 1, 1942, when the world was locked in the deadly conflict of WWII, a 2-year-old brown son of Kentucky Derby winner Reigh Count stepped onto the track at Belmont Park. The colt, an ornery youngster, was named Count Fleet. Unhappy with the horse’s bad manners, owner John D. Hertz, a former sports writer and the founder of both the Yellow Cab Company and the rental car company that bore his name, had tried unsuccessfully to sell him.

By the end of the year, Hertz was glad he had not parted with Count Fleet, who won 10 of his 15 starts as a 2-year-old, including a record-setting victory in the Champagne and a 30-length romp in the Walden Stakes at Pimlico. He was already being hailed as the successor to Man o’ War. His 3-year-old campaign would be as brief as it was memorable. He brushed aside seven rivals in the Wood Memorial, winning by 3½ lengths, and by the time he arrived in Louisville via train he was the 2-5 choice over nine in the wartime “Streetcar Derby,” so called because of wartime restrictions on gas and oil.

When the gates sprang open, Count Fleet was on top, and he went wire-to-wire for a three-length victory over Blue Swords. A week later, in Baltimore, it was the same story, only the Preakness margin was eight lengths. In the Belmont Stakes, he galloped home 25 lengths in front, a record which stood until Secretariat’s 31- length victory thirty years later. That evening, it was discovered that Count Fleet had bowed a tendon. He never raced again. Retired in the fall, Count Fleet sired progenies, including the 1951 Horse of the Year Counterpoint and 1951 Kentucky Derby winner Count Turf, which completed the first “triple sire” in Derby history as the grandson and son of Derby winners.


Click here to view the 1943 Belmont Stakes results chart