Counterpoint, 1951

Charles Hatton on 1951 Horse of the Year Counterpont from the 1952 American Racing Manual.


The career of Counterpoint clearly illustrates “the glorious uncertainty” of the thoroughbred sport. As a yearling, he suffered a broken bone in one hoof, was confined to his stall for four months, and his trainer, Sylvester Veitch, remarked, “You wouldn’t have given $250 for him.” As a two-year-old he was a maiden. And in August of his three-year-old form he was again in enforced idleness, and was rarely mentioned as a candidate for the three-year-old title. Nevertheless, he proved not only the champion of his age division, but the Horse of the Year as well. The careers of several prominent horses have been adapted to the movies, but it is probable that a literal biography of Counterpoint would be considered too fantastic and implausible even in Hollywood.

Counterpoint excited no enthusiasm as a foal or a yearling. He was a washed-out chestnut of medium stature. His legs were straight enough, but his ribs were not very well sprung, his personality was negative, and, in short, he was just another foal. The most spectacular thing he did was to crack a sesamoid as a yearling and hospitalize himself, wearing a cast for six weeks. There is a story that he was offered for sale, but this is not true.

Counterpoint was brought to hand by easy stages as a two-year-old, and made two starts, both in maiden races in September at Belmont. In the first he placed to Blue Helmet in a field of 27, and in the other was fifth to a lot of nonentities.

Counterpoint must have trained smartly between two and three, for he was the favorite in a maiden sprint of six furlongs on March 23 at Gulfstream Park, which marked the first of his 14 starts at three. He began sluggishly, however, and was fourth to Kurry-Skurry, another Count Fleet. Counterpoint then moved to Keeneland, where he won a six-furlong allowance race by eight lengths. It was in his next appearance that Counterpoint first suggested to trainer Veitch he was a high-class colt. This was the mile and a sixteenth Ben Ali Handicap.

Counterpoint carried 105 pounds, set most of the pace, and stuck gamely to his task, finally finishing second in an even effort. Veitch saddled him a few days later for a division of the Blue Grass Stakes. Counterpoint finished fourth but was placed third in a roughly run race.

Counterpoint’s stablemate, Mameluke, won the other division of the Blue Grass, and they then shipped to “Derbytown,” with Mameluke regarded as one of the leading candidates for the Downs classic. Both started, but Mameluke had developed splints and finished last, and Counterpoint failed to be a factor. There is a theory that the track stung him.

Counterpoint next moved to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes. He ran well, but could not cope with the erratic Bold, to whom he was second, seven lengths back. Counterpoint next started in the Withers Stakes but was fifth, 12 lengths back, as Battlefield outfinished Jumbo.

In his succeeding start, the mile and a furlong Peter Pan Handicap, Counterpoint won his first stakes. Carrying 114 to Battlefield’s 123 and Hall of Fame’s 113, he forced the early pace, moved to the front in the stretch and won off by almost three lengths in 1:47 4/5.

He supplemented this success with another, even more impressive, in the Belmont Stakes, disposing of the Derby winner, Count Turf, down the backstretch, then repelling Battlefield in the long homestretch and winning by four emphatic lengths in 2:29 for the mile and a half.

His Peter Pan and Belmont were so impressive it was conjectured Counterpoint might ultimately prove the leader of his division. But then came the Dwyer, which Battlefield won, while Counterpoint was bruising a hoof and finishing ninth.

That mishap occurred July 7, and Counterpoint disappeared until September 26 at Belmont’s fall meet. His injured hoof grew out extraordinarily fast. The Jerome Handicap of a mile was the vehicle of his reappearance. He closed resolutely and finished fourth under topweight of 124 pounds. Alerted won in 1:36 1/5 under 115 pounds.

Counterpoint (126) and Alerted (114) met again in the Lawrence Realization Stakes at a mile and five furlongs. Counterpoint never left the issue in much doubt, joining the front-running Alerted entering the backstretch and just toying with him the rest of the way.

It was decided to run Counterpoint against Hill Prince, who was at the top of his form, in the two miles of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Counterpoint was jumping right in Hill Prince’s tracks into the stretch,  assaulted him with a fine show of pluck and beat him a head on the post in one of 1951’s most spectacular finishes. Hill Prince’s admirers were incredulous, and all manner of excuses were made.

They met again at weight for age in the mile and five furlongs of the Empire Gold Cup. The result varied only in that Counterpoint won  by a length and quarter in 2:42 4/5, which equaled the track record. Counterpoint again challenged Hill Prince in the stretch and forced him to yield.

Counterpoint proved conclusively his right to the season’s top honors in these two enaggements with Hill Prince, the 1950 champion. For good measure Counterpoint concluded the season with an impressive victory under 130 pounds in the Empire City Handicap of a mile and three sixteenths.

It was a tremendous performance, and jockey Gorman declared, “I never rode a horse who gave me such a sense of his power as Counterpoint did when I called on him.”

Counterpoint, individually, is unimpressive. He must be seen in action to be appreciated. He is 15.3 hands, hardly weighs 1,000 pounds in racing fettle, and what muscular equipment there is about his sparse frame is long and lean. Veitch estimates that “he hardly measures 18 inches across the hips.” His barrel was rather thin. But it was clear he has a big heart, and his trainer says: “His pure action enables him to run on tirelessly under big weights. When he breezes or runs toward you, he tracks perfectly true, without any trace of lost motion.”

The Horse of the Year is not unlike his sire, Count Fleet, in that the latter also was rather clipper-rigged in training. However, Count Fleet had a precipitous, pell-mell manner of going. Counterpoint is more deliberate. Nor does he have any of the headstrong behavior of Jabot (his dam). He is quiet and controlled at all times, swinging along like a pony on the track in the morning, perfectly composed in the paddock and on parade, and cheerfully responding as best he can to riding orders. In his duel with Hill Prince he revealed a mine of courage.

Count Fleet warrants no introduction certainly, for he attained a celebrity as a sire of classic horses in 1951, heading the list of U.S. stallions, and himself was a Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner. He is of a staying branch of the Sundridge line, through his sire, Reigh Count, himself a champion. Reigh Count won the Kentucky Derby, England’s Cronation Cup, and was beaten gallantly by a very narrow margin in the Ascot Gold Cup.

Jabot was by Sickle, an English sprinter who sired stayers in America, and herself stayed middle distances comfortably enough. She was a striking looking red chestnut mare of the exquisitely molded Sickle type. Her dam, Frilette, introduces a cross of Man o’ War, and also produced Equestrian, the sire of Stymie. Oddly, she was one season bred to Count Fleet’s sire, Reigh Count, and produced a painfully moderate offspring in Whiffle. Thus the cross did not prove successful in every instance. But, it is interesting to note that Kiss Me Kate, another of Count Fleet’s champions, is from a mare by Pharamond II, a brother to Sickle, and her second dam also is by Man o’ War. Frilette was of fully as much class as her daughter, Jabot, winning the Beldame Handicap and finishing second in the CCA Oaks and Beldame Stakes.

The next dam, Frillery, did not race and was old-fashioned “Whitney blood,” being by Broomstick out of Petticoat, by Hamburg. Counterpoint results from a combination of American and imported strains, a blend that has proved successful for generations of breeders, among them James R. Keene and Col. E. R. Bradley.


Counterpoint was not exactly a raging success at stud. However, he did leave behind a few really good broodmares. For extra credit, name the Counterpoint broodmare of whom I am specifically thinking.

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4 Responses to Counterpoint, 1951

  1. AJH says:


    • ddink55 says:

      Very good!!!! Just to be clear, I am not referring to the 1984 gelding by Dewan who was a G2 winner. Rather, to the unraced 1955 filly by Counterpoint out of Big Hurry, by Black Toney. That Allemande produced 1966 Acorn Stakes winner Marking Time (filly by To Market).

      Marking Time produced 1981 champion older female Relaxing (by Buckpasser). Relaxing was Broodmare of the Year in 1989, the year her son Easy Goer (by Alydar) won the Belmont Stakes, thwarting the Triple Crown bid of Sunday Silence. Relaxing also produced the G1 winners Easy Now (filly by Danzig) and Cadillacing (filly by Alydar).

      Another noteworthy Counterpoint mare was Honey Dear, a stakes winner born in 1958 out of Miss Thrill, by Bull Lea. Honey Dear produced the stakes winners You All and Shoo Dear (both fillies by Nashua). You All produced the stakes winners Plains and Simple (1975 filly by Twist the Axe) and Hush Dear (1978 filly by Silent Screen). Hush Dear produced the stakes winner Noactor (1989 colt by Theatrical) and the stakes-placed filly Dear Birdie (1987 filly by Storm Bird).

      Dear Birdie of course was named Broodmare of the Year in 2004, when her son Birdstone (by Grindstone) won the Belmont, foilng the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones. Dear Birdie also produced 2003 champion three-year-old filly Bird Town. And Birdstone sired two-thirds of the 2009 Triple Crown, Mine That Bird (Derby) and Summer Bird (Belmont), the latter eventually prevailing as champion three-year-old.

  2. Allison Roulston says:

    Counterpoint was a notoriously shy breeder which nevertheless enjoyed a high strike rate from what he did manage to sire.

    Another of his good daughters was Mother Wit which, when bred to Preakness winner Royal Orbit, produced Quicken Tree, a long-winded gelding which emulated his grandsire by winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup, among a clutch of other good races.

    Thanks for posting this piece.


    • ddink55 says:

      You are absolutely correct about Counterpoint. I neglected to check his stud record. Counterpoint sired only 73 foals, but 11 of them were stakes winners, which was an excellent 15%. Quicken Tree won 15 (11 of them stakes) of 74 starts and earned $718,303. Mother Wit also produced the stakes winners Ask Father (colt by Determine) and Ready Wit (filly by Ruken).

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