The following article by Charles Hartley originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 15 Aug 2012. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
If you've seen the movie Seabiscuit, you likely remember that Chris McCarron played the part of Charley Kurtsinger, the jockey aboard War Admiral in that dramatic race. McCarron was a good choice since, like Kurtsinger, he won the Kentucky Derby twice.
Charley Kurtsinger's first Derby win was astride Twenty Grand in 1931, and then he won again in 1937 aboard War Admiral whom he rode to the Triple Crown that year.
Some sources say that Kurtsinger was born in Shepherdsville, others say in Louisville, but we do know that he lived with his family in Bullitt County on a farm near Pitts Point for several years while he was growing up.
Charley's parents were Charles Herbert Kurtsinger and Lizzie Jane Moore who married in Bardstown two days before Christmas in 1902. They moved quite a bit, but for the most part they lived in Louisville during those first years. Charles was listed as a house painter in the 1910 Jefferson County census where he, his wife, and three children lived. The children were Charley, who had been born in November 1906, and two younger brothers: James and Joseph.
Wanting to rear their children in the country, the Kurtsingers bought a farm of 225 acres along Salt River two miles from Pitts Point in the fall of 1916. By this time young Charley was ten years old, and it is likely he learned how to ride horses on the farm.
Apparently farming didn't suit the Kurtsingers. By the spring of 1922, Charley's father was back working as a painter, employed in the new construction going on at Camp Knox. In February he ran an advertisement in the Shepherdsville newspaper offering to sell the farm.
He seems to have had problems selling the place for he was still advertising it for sale in September 1924. By this time he had moved the family back to Louisville.
Young Charley was fortunate to be schooled as a jockey by Roscoe Goose, the winner of the 1913 Derby aboard Donerail. Charley rode his first professional race in 1924, and in a career that spanned fifteen years he rode 5,651 times, bringing 721 of them home as winners.
Racing was a dangerous sport for both horse and jockey, and Charley Kurtsinger had his ups and downs.
His Kentucky Derby victory aboard Twenty Grand in 1931 established his reputation as an exceptional jockey. Two years later he won the Preakness Stakes aboard Head Play. Then in September 1934 he was aboard Dark Secret, a distance runner, in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont race track. Three horses were entered and it quickly became a two-horse race between Dark Secret, who had won this race the previous year, and Faireno. As they approached the finish line, Dark Secret injured his right front leg, but drove forward through the pain and won the race. Tragically, the injury was so severe that he had to be put down.
Like most jockeys, Charley had some disappointments. The 1936 Kentucky Derby was one of them. His mount that day was a Thoroughbred named He Did. Coming into the stretch they were running fourth on the rail and had a chance to finish in the money. In those days spectators in the infield could come right up to the rail, and one of them reached out and grabbed the whip out of Charley's hand, nearly unseating him and throwing the horse off his stride. As a result He Did didn't, finishing seventh.
He bounced back in 1937, winning the Triple Crown aboard War Admiral, only to lose to Seabiscuit in what was dubbed the "Match of the Century." He wanted to return and ride War Admiral again, but the owners chose another jockey and Kurtsinger indicated that he would retire and become a trainer.
He was attempting a comeback in 1942 when in a practice run his saddle slipped and Charley was thrown under the horse's hoofs, fracturing his left leg. This ended his hopes of riding race horses again. Charley's health suffered following the accident, and in 1946 he died in Louisville of pneumonia.
Charley Kurtsinger was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1967. That little tow-headed fellow had indeed come a long way since the days he rode alongside Salt River as a boy.
Below are related census records for the family of Charley Kurtsinger.
1910 Federal Census: Kentucky, Jefferson County, Magisterial District 3, page 281A
Kurtsinger, Charles - head, M W 33, md 8 years, born KY, parents born KY, house painter
Kurtsinger, Jane - wife, F W 26, 4 children/3 living, born KY, parents born KY
Kurtsinger, Charles Jr. - son, M W 3, born KY
Kurtsinger, James - son, M W 15/12, born KY
Kurtsinger, Joseph - son, M W 0, born KY
Moore, Lulu - sister-in-law, F W 22, single, born KY, parents born KY
1920 Federal Census: Kentucky, Bullitt County, Shepherdsville, page 1B
Kurtsinger, Charles - head, M W 41, born KY, parents born KY, farmer
Kurtsinger, Janie - wife, F W 36, born KY, parents born KY
Kurtsinger, Charles - son, M W 13, born KY
Kurtsinger, James - son, M W 10, born KY
Kurtsinger, Frances - daughter, F W 8, born KY
Kurtsinger, Mary - daughter, F W 5, born KY
1930 Federal Census: Kentucky, Jefferson County, Louisville, page 31B
household 391/453 - 3906 5th Street
Kurtsinger, Charles H. - head, M W 52, md at 30, born KY, parents born KY, painter/bldg construction
Kurtsinger, Lizzie - wife, F W 46, md at 24, born KY, parents born KY
Kurtsinger, James - son, M W 21, single, born KY
Hammond, Frances - daughter, F W 18, md at 17, born KY
Hammond, Ben - son-in-law, M W 23, md at 22, born KY, parents born KY, painter/bldg construction
Kurtsinger, Agnes - daughter, F W 15, born KY
Kurtsinger, Freda - daughter, F W 9, born KY
1930 Federal Census: Kentucky, Jefferson County, Louisville, pages 34B-35A
household 107/139 - 214 23rd Street
Maguire, William - head, M W 49, md at 26, born KY, father born OH, mother born KY, painter contractor
Maguire, Catherine - wife, F W 43, md at 20, born KY, parents born Germany
Maguire, Catherine - daughter, F W 22 single, born KY <== married Charley Kurtsinger
Maguire, Helen - daughter, F W 18 single, born KY
Maguire, Marie - daughter, F W 15, born KY
Maguire, Betty J. - daughter, F W 5, born KY
1940 Federal Census: Kentucky, Jefferson County, ED 56-8, page 108A
Kurtsinger, Janie - head, F W 56, widow, born KY
Kurtsinger, Frieda - daughter, F W 19, single, born KY
Kurtsinger, Charles - son, M W 33, md, born KY, race horse jockey
Kurtsinger, Katherine - daughter-in-law, F W 32, md, born KY
Moore, Alfred - brother, M W 57, single, born KY, farmer
Copyright 2012 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.