Click above to watch a tribte to Kelso…
(Image : TVG - Footage : Vintage Horse Racing Videos)
Your Host (USA) - Maid Of Flight (USA)
The breeding season has started, and the first foals have hit the ground running, literally. There’s always an air of anticipation around the first of a new stallion’s progeny, and at Summerhill, that means in most years. This time it’s the turn of Visionaire and Bankable, and you’re always gratified as a studman to see some parental resemblance in the progeny. Typically, the Visionaires are good square types, with big engines and beautiful sculpted heads, while the Bankables are leggy and athletic with the scope of their father.
Inevitably, there will be the odd one that doesn’t measure up to your expectations, and just occasionally, because it’s natures way, there will be a runt in the litter. If you happen to own one, don’t despair. When her Count Fleet mare, Maid of Flight produced a tiny non-descript colt at her Woodstock Farm in Maryland, USA in the spring of 1957, the fabled American breeder, Allaire du Pont was despondent. By any measure, he was a “squib”, the most unlikely runner in the whole darn crop, but in the end, he was the runt who would live to be king. For five consecutive years (1960-1964) the dark bay son of Your Host, whom racegoers would know as Kelso, would dominate the Sport of Kings like no other before or after him. New York was his domain, and he frequented the headlines of the city’s newspapers to a degree that when he was finally retired, as august a paper as The New York Times exclaimed “It just won’t be Saturday without Kelso”. To this day, Americans believe his five consecutive Horse of the Year titles remain the most unattainable feat in American racing, along with Secretariat’s 2:24 clocking in the Belmont Stakes (Gr.1).
The title of “greatest gelding of all-time” is always a contentious matter, particularly when his competitors include Forego and John Henry; among the trio, they were a major force in racing for a span of 20 of 25 years, winning 84 Stakes races and 25 championships, including ten Horse of the Year titles. In the end though, Kelso was supreme. In the weight-carrying category, Kelso, who remained the “runt” of the three in terms of size, (he was just a pony next to the massive Forego), made 24 starts carrying 130 pounds or more, and finished in the money in 19 of them. He carried an average weight in these races of 131.5 pounds. Amazingly, he scored some of his greatest triumphs while burdened with heavy weights. He came from sixteen lengths back under 136 pounds in the 1961 Brooklyn Handicap (Gr.1), completing a sweep of New York’s Triple Crown. In the 1963 Suburban Handicap, he carried 133 to victory, conceding 22 pounds to the runner-up, and in the Aqueduct Stakes (Gr.1) that same year, under 134 pounds he defeated Crimson Satan (broodmare sire of Royal Academy and grand broodmare sire of Storm Cat).
In the category of consistency, Kelso won eight consecutive races in 1963, all stakes, with six of those victories under a 130 pound burden or more. As for versatility, Kelso was a major star on the grass, while Forego never competed in a single grass race. Kelso could run short, winning the Met Mile and the Jerome Mile, and a number of allowance sprints, but no horse in history could match his accomplishments at long distances on the dirt. Not only did he win the two mile Jockey Gold Cup five times, setting a track record in three of them including one which still stands. He won seven of eleven starts at 1,5 miles or longer. He also won the Woodward three times, the Whitney three times, the Suburban twice, the Aqueduct Stakes twice, and the Brooklyn, Gulfstream Park Handicap and Hawthorne Gold Cup, at different venues. Following three seconds in the Washington DC International, Kelso nailed down his fifth Horse of the Year title at age 7 by defeating his arch rival Gun Bow, by 4.5 lengths in the 1964 version, setting a track and an American record in the process.
Speed is relative, but the one trademark of Kelso which stands out is his remarkable closing acceleration, which gave him victory over 11 champions or classic winners: Never Bend, Jaipur, Mungo, Carry Back, Bald Eagle, Roman Brother, Decidedly, Candy Spots, Crimson Satan, T.V.Lark and Quadrangle. He was retired at age 9, with 39 victories, twelve seconds and two thirds from sixty three starts, and when that time came, he became the idol of a new set.
The Du Ponts are famed for their association with the textile and explosives industries, and at Woodstock Farm following his retirement, he was pampered like the noblest of kings. He had his own private mail box to accommodate the flood of fan mail. His name graced the welcome mat, and he slept on a bed of sugar cane fibres, with a specially embroidered blanket, and drank only bottled spring water from Arkansas, costing a dollar a gallon. His fan club numbered in the thousands, and his sweet tooth was often pacified with ice-cream sundaes or lumps of sugar, individually wrapped in special paper bearing his name and picture. Allaire du Pont was a champion herself, an Olympic Trap shooter and a champion tennis player. She knew the look of a champion.
So there you are: if you happen to have had a disappointing foal, there’s always a Kelso to provide the hope. And we can name a few too; Pierre Jourdan, the Guineas winning heroine, Mystery Guest, Hear The Drums, and the Group One winners Bridal Paths, Bianconi and Icy Air. The list is long, it’s eminent and it’s always refreshing.