One Count–1952

Charles Hatton on 1952 Horse of the Year and champion three-year-old One Count from the 1953 American Racing Manual.

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The highest honor to which American Thoroughbreds may aspire is that of being acclaimed the Horse of the Year. It was the consensus of Daily Racing Form‘s panel of 31 competent observers that Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords’ three-year-old One Count deserved this distinction in 1952.

For the first time, a poll of opinion among the Thoroughbred Racing Associations’ handicapping talent was at variance with the result of Daily Racing Form‘s balloting. The “handicappers’ choice” was the undefeated two-year-old Native Dancer. We suppose the sporting thing is to quote the old saw about difference of opinion and horse racing. Having cast a vote for One Count, we are reminded of Voltaire’s lines, “I disagree with everything you say, sir, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Native Dancer certainly was the most popular, consistently successful performer of 1952. He did everything two-year-olds ever are asked to do, and with more profit than any ever had. But after all, two-year-olds are not required to stay classic distances, and it is our view that Horse of the Year honors are not for leaders of certain age or sex divisions when the candidates include a classic winner such as One Count, who dominated both the three-year-old and older performers. He answered in the affirmative questions of stamina, weight carrying ability and versatility the owners of two-year-olds can only hope they will answer as satisfactorily.

However, we have long since learned the futility of carrying on these discussions, and the foregoing is merely by way of describing our thinking in the matter. It does not become those who advance an opinion to be intolerant of others’ privilege to state their own. Our only material concern here is to portray One Count. To get on with it, we cannot help thinking how very appropriate it is that the most strongly bred of the 1952 champions should also be accorded Horse of the Year honors. Many horses are better than their breeders have any right to expect. Others of high breeding are rather disappointing. We see One Count as the happy result of several horse generations of selective breeding, a program devised and carried out by Walter M. Jeffords.

The story of One Count’s origin not only is of absorbing interest, it is rather instructive to students of bloodstock breeding and the mystic “science” of pedigrees. It began in 1918, when Jeffords was in his country’s service, and Mrs. Jeffords bought a mare called Flying Flower from Major Thomas Clay McDowell, a picturesque character who was one of the most successful of an earlier generation of Blue Grass breeders. Flying Flower was by The Manager, a stallion quite as famed for his aesthetic appeal as for the racing class of his progeny, out of a useful producer called Ancient.

Flying Flower had a cross of the sprinting blood of Cesarion close up in her pedigree. She managed to win a little race for Mrs. Jeffords and was sent home to be bred. George Widener’s Galetian was selected as a mate for her. Galetian, like Cesarion, was interpreted to represent speed at sprint distances in pedigrees of the day. But the resultant foal, a filly named Flying Hour, won six races and foaled three stakes winners for the Jeffordses. Two of the latter were by the stout if unfashionable Man o’ War horse Mars. They were Dawn Attack, who won 17 races, and H Hour, who won 11. The other, Flaught, was by Firethorn, and he won 26 events and some $70,000 when that took an impressive amount of doing. Bred to Man o’ War himself, Flying Hour foaled the filly Furlough, who was a moderate winner but more than compensated in the breeding paddocks for her failure to add luster to the family in training.

Furlough’s mates marked a further improvement of this particular breed. When she was unwound, it was decided to breed her to the successful Teddy stallion Case Ace in neighboring New Jersey before shipping her on to the Jeffords’ Faraway Farm in the Blue Grass. The result was the filly Ace Card, who won the Polly Drummond, Gazelle and Schuylerville and $30,370. Later Furlough was sent to the Epsom Derby winner Mahmoud and foaled the filly Adile, a stakes winner of $126,825.

Ace Card was eventually retired to the stud and is proving the most successful producer in the entire family. Bred to Firethorn she had the colt Post Card, a stakes winner of some $120,000. her next foal, Yildiz, by Mahmoud, won the Flamingo. And her next is the Count Fleet colt One Count, the subject of this piece.

The story of the family’s development is at once “a romance of the Stud Book,” and a study in breed improvement. From the unimportant winner Flying Flower to One Count is a chasm of class. Jeffords bridged it by a process of selecting sires who were agents of the stoutest strains as mates for the fillies of the family. In due course the entire character of the tribe, in its original aspects, has been changed. It is fun to win a classic event, but it is especially gratifying to lead in a colt that has resulted from bloodlines developed for generations at one’s own stud.

So much for One Count’s background. Many horses seem destined from colthood to develop into headliners. But One Count inspired no dreams of floral horseshoes and cheering thousands. He was a nice yearling, husky and animated without being at all outstanding in appearance. Harrie B. Scott, who manages the Jeffords’ end of Faraway, recalls that as a yearling One Count would wear out the other colts wrestling and running and then visit across the fence with the barren mares.

One Count was not “a fast yearling.” Indeed he was not broken until he was a two-year-old. He and others of the 1950 crop of yearlings were grazed on a leased farm in Maryland and in the spring as two-year-olds they were shipped to Laurel to be bridlewised. They contracted the cough immediately upon their arrival at this course and were finally broken in June. One Count thus made only three starts as a two-year-old. He still did not know how to run when he made his first acquaintance with actual competition at Belmont Park in late September. His action was disgusting. He seemed to just hop up and down and got nowhere in particular, finishing 18th in a field of 27 maidens. But he caught on like a bright colt, and in his third start, a mile and 70 yards event at Garden State Park, he became a winner. That concluded his “campaign.” He was not rated in the Experimental Handicap.

One Count surely “made up for lost time” as a three-year-old. His campaign in 1952 extended over 15 starts, of which he won seven, was three times second, twice third and amassed $229,925. He made five starts at Hialeah’s winter meet, where he won two allowance sprints. Trainer Oscar White, one of the most patient and skillful of the younger generation, saddled him for a division of the Flamingo there. But the successful Blue Man beat him 14 lengths in a race in which Mrs. Jeffords’ colt was never prominent.

Moving north to Laurel in the spring, One Count was second to Comte deGrasse in a mile allowance race decided in the mud, then journeyed to Belmont Park and qualified for the Withers by winning a mile and a sixteenth allowance event by eight emphatic lengths. In the Withers, the one-eyed Armageddon debited him with defeat, but One Count was second and still closing, if belatedly, at the end of a mile in 1:37.

This was the beginning of the colt’s emergence as the sort of performer we have come to know actually. For he then went to Pimlico and jockey Eddie Arcaro had the mount on him in the Preakness. His instructions were not to whip One Count. It seems that one of his earlier jockeys had got after him with the whip and reported he resented it. Arcaro had One Count forwardly placed to the head of the stretch, where Blue Man ran by him. Feeling that the race was lost in any case, the Cincinnatian let One Count have one, “just for Arcaro.” He responded amazingly, gaining all up the stretch and finishing third.

Thereafter, One Count never looked back. He turned the tables on Blue Man in the Belmont Stakes, under a masterful Arcaro ride. The Kentuckian tucked his mount in behind the pacemakers going into a stiff wind that blew up the backstretch, cut the corner entering the long homestretch and won by nearly three lengths. His 2:30 1/5 was a smart run in blustery weather. Shortly thereafter it was discovered One Count had a slight hoof injury, nothing really disturbing, but enough to keep him idle until Saratoga. In his one appearance there, One Count, who had won sprints in Florida, revealed another facet of his versatility and quality.

The occasion was the mile and a quarter of the historically significant Travers “Midsummer Derby.” The track was sloppy, nd the conditions imposed a burden of 126 pounds with a concession of three pounds to Armageddon, 12 to Tom Fool. The crowd, perhaps remembering his rather weird behavior in some of his earlier races, played all about him in the tote. It was his first start in two and a half months, but it is a tribute to both One Count and trainer White that he cruised home by three lengths.

One Count returned to Belmont for the brilliant autumn meet and made his first appearance there in the mile and five furlongs of the Lawrence Realization, America’s counterpart of England’s St. Leger. Coming up to this engagement, the Midwest’s Mark-Ye-Well, winner of the Classic and American Derby, was frequently mentioned as a pretender to One Count’s three-year-old laurels. The conditions of the Realization allowed the Calumet colt to appear under 118 pounds, eight less than they required of Mrs. Jeffords’ representative.

Much to nobody’s surprise Mark-Ye-Well beat One Count by four lengths. There was some marginal surprise, however, awaiting those who theorized Mark-Ye-Well was capable of beating One Count at levels, when they met ten days later in the two miles of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Jeffords pink and primrose hoops were two lengths in front of Mark-Ye-Well at the line. Additionally, it was in this event One Count clearly demonstrated his superiority to the handicap champion Crafty Admiral, who failed to stay the distance. No excuses were proffered for Crafty Admiral, but heretical as it seems, Mark-Ye-Well’s backers found time to criticize Arcaro’s handling of that colt.

One Count had now beaten Tom Fool, Blue Man, Mark-Ye-Well and the mature Crafty Admiral, generally considered the most formidable of the handicappers. At various and sundry times during the season, one might have made out a case for the claims each of these laid to the Horse of the Year title. But One Count had developed sensationally, both physically and in his racing capacity as the season advanced. Only five venturesome rivals opposed him in the mile and five furlongs of the Empire Gold Cup, his final start of the year.

The Empire Gold Cup field, incidentally, included the English horse Zucchero, who had performed creditably in the Washington, D.C., International at Laurel and was hailed “the best four-year-old in Europe.” But this horse hardly could have been said to have run at all in the race, pulling himself up greenly when the sand of the Empire surface was kicked into his face. For that matter the others of the field also lost all contact with One Count, who sauntered casually to the finish nine lengths in advance of Alerted. They met at scale weights and One Count was so impressive, jockey Dave Gorman declared upon dismounting, “this is a great horse.”

One Count intrigues bloodstock breeders for his potentialities as a sire, and a number have applied for nominations to him, against the time it is decided to retire him to the stud. He proved a classic performer of top quality, and is by the Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, a most important source of classic performers. Himself a Horse of the Year, Count Fleet became the first to sire two colts to achieve that honor when Counterpoint and One Count earned it in consecutive seasons. Further, One Count is a very pleasing individual, and indeed one inclines to believe, with Walter Jeffords, that he will furnish out into quite a prepossessing stallion.

During his three-year-old campaign, One Count seemed to progress physically far beyond the average. In the early spring, it was discovered he had a blood deficiency. Dr. William Reed treated him, administered a tonic composed of folic acid, liver extract and iron. Some are convinced this contributed to his transformation from an inconsistent colt of no great promise into the Horse of the Year. But then many Count Fleets, including Counterpoint, improved from two to three, and it might be difficult to say with any degree of accuracy how much of his improvement was owing normal development and how much to the tonic.

One Count is a rich, dark brown, 16 hands at the withers, with a very inconspicuous star and traces of white about his near fore and hind pasterns. He has a beautiful “top line” with a masculine neck, stout withers, short saddle back, broad croup and long pelvis. His hind leg is a thing of beauty, straight about the hocks like a true stayer’s, with much leverage from hip to hock. He stands, as horsemen say, with all four legs “in a bucket,” they set under him so well.

One Count has good rein length and some of Case Ace’s quality about the head. His frontispiece did not appear to belong to him as a two-year-old, but he grew up to it so to speak. He has a neatly pricked ear and a bright, eager eye. His jowls are very deep and flat, more so than one usually sees in three-year-olds. His cannons are short and the bone appears light and flinty rather than heavy and porous. His pastern are precisely the right length and have the approved angle. The hoofs appear round and healthy. In kind, he is a sturdy, masculine animal rather than a “picture horse.”

One Count’s disposition is a bit antic at times. But he is quite the gentleman in his attitude toward visitors and his handlers. Many stallions incline to be “nippy” in training. That he is not a colt who frets unduly is manifest in his appearance in racing condition. At Belmont before the Belmont Stakes, and in Florida just before his reappearance at four, he was as full bodied as a colt two months removed from fitness for competition. Barring mishap, such a performer might further distinguish himself through several more campaigns before entering the stud.

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One Count finished third in the 1953 Gallant Fox Handicap, but that was about the extent of his racing laurels at age four. And he was not exactly a great sire, especially in terms of male lines. He did sire some good broodmares though. Anyone care to name any??????

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6 Responses to One Count–1952

  1. Barry L Tannenholz says:

    Hatton certainly changed his tune when it came time to vote in 1972. Suddenly a two-year old with a less perfect record was such an easy choice. Suddenly the criteria that were so apodictically evident to him in 1952 no longer carried any weight in 1972. I’ve always believed we make decisions that don’t have life-or-death or serious monetary consequences riding on them on emotional grounds. We then justify them with rules and criteria concocted out of thin air that we insist, with completely straight faces, drove those decisions. Did Secretariat deserve to be Horse of the Year in 1972? Of course he did. Did Native Dancer deserve to be Horse of the Year in 1952? In the memorable words of Francis Dunne, in response to a different question I posed to him more than 50 years ago, when I was still wet behind the ears: “Young man,” he said: “if you actually have to ask that question, you shouldn’t be permitted onto the grounds of a racetrack with money in your pocket.” By the way, Native Dancer was also selected Horse of the Year in the most comprehensive poll of all–the Turf and Sports Digest Poll. In any event, posterity has ruled Native Dancer Horse of the Year in 1952. He is always referred to as the first two years old to be selected Horse of the Year. What about One Count? He’s the answer to an obscure trivia question.

    As usual, Hatton wrote a marvelous profile. I’ve heard he slaved over them, but they always read as if they came trippingly off his tongue–a Very Great Talent. You might also resurrect some equally wonderful profiles Evan Shipman wrote. Hemingway held him in high regard–maybe because he taught Hemingway how to make money betting at the track.

  2. Barry L Tannenholz says:

    A follow-up to my earlier reply. I went online to search out the results of the 1952 Turf and Sports Digest Poll and got lucky. Of the 176 “turf writers and commentators” voting for Horse of the Year, Native Dancer received 110 votes, One Count 38, Real Delight 10. No contest. But more interestingly, Native Dancer received 175 of the 176 votes for Best 2 Year Old. Who received the other vote? Laffango, a colt Native Dancer CRUSHED several times. A half century later, the Blood Horse polled several experts to determine the best 100 horses of the 20th Century. One voter placed Secretariat 13th. You realize what this moron was saying: if a typical race were held between his first 13 horses, Secretariat would finish dead last. The only serious race I can come up with where Secretariat would have even the SLIGHTEST chance of finishing last would be at a mile against Man o’ War, Count Fleet, Swaps, and Dr. Fager. And, I repeat, only the SLIGHTEST chance. The odds are Dr. Fager would amazingly finish last and it would be a desperate fight at the wire between Secretariat and Count Fleet. I’d pay five figures to see that race–OK, maybe six.

    • ddink55 says:

      That mythical one-mile race does indeed sound very interesting. Would Frankel fit into it at all??????

      • Barry L Tannenholz says:

        Very interesting question! They say it’s impossible to compare horses of different eras. Maybe yes, maybe no. But it’s orders of magnitude more difficult to compare horses of different countries who almost never meet. At least there’s an overlapping sequence of horses in the same country. A substantial number of horses that raced in 1920 raced against horses in 1921, and a substantial number of horses that raced in 1921 raced against horses in 1922, etc. With the advent of readily available computers over the past 35 years–with their increasingly fast processing time and their increasingly huge RAM–it has become relatively easy to do what was once thought to be a dream at best or impossible at worst: to take a database of horses such as I have described and, using sophisticated multivariate time series analysis, build mathematico-statistical models that account for the observed variation in the data. How this can be done reliably for groups of horses that have never, or rarely, met remains a major, if not insuperable , challenge.

        Enter Frankel.
        While most observers agree that European racehorses (include Australia) are superior as a group at the classic and longer distances to their American counterparts, few can maintain with a straight face that this is so at distances below 10 furlongs. The American thoroughbred and the European thoroughbred have significantly diverged over the past 25 to 30 years–even more so than they had before. The Pedigree Curmudgeon has held forth on this both eloquently and informatively. They have diverged with respect to both distance aptitude and racing surface preference. The American breeder has followed the dictum of the late Aga Khan with a vengeance–“speed, speed, and more speed.” But unlike that great breeder, at the disproportionate expense of endurance–i.e.,staying power. There will always be a tradeoff between the two, but one should lose less in endurance than one gains in speed. The modern American commercial breeder has gone about his business completely indifferent, if not oblivious, to this. Short term profitablilty has been prioritized over long term superiority–i.e., they have become quick buck artists. (The most important word in their vocabulary–other than money–is precocious.) Breeding used to be a means to an end–producing better and better racehorses (as demonstrated by victories in classic and top tier weight-for-age races.) That worked well when you could make more money racing horses than breeding them, or when the breeders were so rich–think Vanderbilt, Whitney, Phipps, Woodward, Belmont–that pride (what we call today bragging rights) meant more than money. But pride in producing a great racehorse is no longer a significant factor; (Alfred Vanderbilt never remotely took the pride in Discovery that he did in Native Dancer.) A horse’s breeder today is rarely its racer. Breeding is now the end; racing, the means.

        Now, while Europe has produced its share of outstanding milers, it is highly unlikely, for the reasons in the previous paragraph, that Frankel–who was essentially a miler–was better than any miler produced in America. But he could be that rare thing–an outlier. That’s what each of the horses in the previous post was. But more important all those horses had something else in common. Each was as good at six furlongs as at a mile and a half. Even Dr. Fager beat the best that could be thrown at him at a mile and a half. (In 1956, Swaps held the greatest body of world records–from 8 furlongs to 13 furlongs–ever held by a racehorse.) That means each of those horses would not likely be falling apart before the finish line is reached. It’s only running style that would likely undo Man o’ War and Dr. Fager. And that is the one factor that plays in Frankel’s favor. He didn’t need to have the lead. His great speed could be put to tactical use. But does he belong in that mile race to end all mile races? You bet he does.

        Thanks very much for pointing out my parochial oversight.

      • ddink55 says:

        Dr. Fager never raced beyond a mile and a quarter (and he did beat the best that could be thrown at him at that distance). Perhaps you meant that Man o’ War (or one of the others) beat the best that could be thrown at him at a mile and half???????

        Anyway, thank you for a very interesting comment. Your remarks about American breeders these days are particularly apropos.

      • Barry L Tannenholz says:

        You’re right! I somehow remembered his United Nations race as being at 12 furlongs rather 9.5.

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