Kelso, Forego, and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation

Tomorrow at Aqueduct the Discovery Handicap, named for Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s magnificent colt, will be run for the 66th time. A look at its past winners shows two horses whose victories came a generation apart but to whom American racing fans formed a profound attachment that may have reached its pinnacle on October 15, 1983.

Kelso won the Discovery in 1960, Forego in 1973. Kelso set a track record in his victory; Forego missed the TR by a fifth of second, but won with more weight than had ever been carried in the race—127 pounds.

These two brought no shortage of exciting, meaningful moments to fans during their racing careers; Kelso was Horse of the Year five times, and he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in five consecutive years: 1960 – 1964. Forego was Horse of the Year three times; he won the Woodward four times and the Brooklyn Handicap for three consecutive runnings. He won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1974.

They never raced against each other, but on October 15, 1983, the New York Racing Association brought these two favorites back to the track. The occasion was the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the launch of a new organization: the Thoroughbred Retirement Fund.

This wasn’t just any Gold Cup; the eight-year-old John Henry was running in it, so the day featured, as one headline put it, “3 Great Geldings United.” The New York Times devoted an unimaginable amount of space to this race, running no fewer than five stories about it. In one, Steven Crist notes that Kelso and Forego would be paraded in the Belmont stretch “to stir support for the Thoroughbred Retirement Fund, a new nonprofit group dedicated to finding and building homes for retired runners.”

Between them, Kelso and Forego won six Jockey Club Gold Cups, eight horse-of-the-year titles, $3.9 million and unrivaled affection from horseplayers. Their return at Belmont will make for a highly emotional day, one
that their owners hope will inspire anyone who watched them race to help provide other horses with the lush retirements Kelso and Forego earned.” (“2 Great Race Horses”)

But the day was not about only sentimentality and looking back; in addition to the older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, spectators would also see two-year-olds in the Champagne. Crist again: “Every leading candidate for horse of the year will be running…and the two feature races will probably decide the 2-year-old and 3-year-old championships as well” (“A Truly Thoroughbred Day”).

On the day of the race, Kelso and Forego led the post parade for the race that each had won.

The two great veterans, on hand to help raise funds for thoroughbred retirement homes, looked surprisingly spry and fit and were given a thunderous ovation by the 32,493 fans. (“Slew O’Gold Wins”)

John Henry, unfortunately, couldn’t do his part for the Old Guy Brigade, finishing fifth. But the disappointment of the fans at that upset was nothing compared to the shock that they must have felt two days later when they saw this:

Kelso Dies of Colic at 26

Kelso, having heard the cheers of the race track one final time last Saturday afternoon, died of colic Sunday night at Woodstock Farm in Chesapeake City, Md.

Following his New York adventure, he’d arrived back at his Maryland home in fine fettle and in high spirits, but he became ill the next day and that evening, he died in his paddock. He was buried at the farm.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation offers opportunities to sponsor, retire, or adopt a horse, or simply to make a gift. This organization, begun 26 years ago, was at the forefront of Thoroughbred retirement. The Discovery was only one of the races that both Forego and Kelso won, and its renewal this weekend offers a terrific opportunity to remember their victories, to celebrate their achievements, and to recall their role in raising awareness of Thoroughbred retirement. In the unlikely event that I make any money at the races on Saturday, my winnings will go to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, in memory of its launch and of the two horses who helped publicize it; if I lose, I’ll donate to the TRF the amount of my losses (hey, there’s an incentive to bet a lot!). Perhaps some of you will do the same?

(All the articles below require payment or New York Times subscription.)

Crist, Steven. “2 Great Race Horses Will Cover Some Old Ground.” New York Times. 10 Oct. 1983. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.

Crist, Steven. “A Truly Thoroughbred Day for Belmont.” New York Times. 14 Oct. 1983. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.

Crist, Steven. “Kelso Dies of Colic at 26.” New York Times. 18 Oct. 1983. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.

Crist, Steven. “Slew O’Gold Wins the Gold Cup By 3.” New York Times. 16 Oct. 1983. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.

5 thoughts on “Kelso, Forego, and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation

  1. I believe that good Mr. Lenny Hale was the organizer of this historic event as I have heard of it at his dinner parties and/or on the road in his horse van. Next time you breeze through our area, we should really get him to tell you about it as he may add more color to the back story of this tale then that told through columns of the Gray Lady. The poignancy and personalities in his recollection of the days leading up to the event and the day after are raw and unapologetic as you listen with a bittersweet sense of aw as he recalls…the grand old days of racing.

  2. I see Lucky red is using that phrase "grandd old days of racing" & i call it the "Golden Age". Either way, I was there that day & I have some pictures of Kelso with the old pony they brought up with him. Kelso had a great life & loved to run & I think he knew exactly where he was as he surveyed the crowd. He was very old in appearance. After he died, there was controversy, but I truly believe he was happy to hear the crowd roar for him one more time. Then he went home & went to horse heaven.

  3. I enjoyed the comments as much as the original post. They all add up to a great visual and it must have been something to be there that day in 1983 and see these 2 champs. Thanks for sharing this (and Congrats to Haynesfield for that nice win yesterday!)

  4. Everything you post is always so accurate & I love reading B.B. Love your betting incentive too. I'm sure you know that Allaire DuPont, Martha Gerry, Alfred Vanderbilt, Paul Mellon, etc. were all "Sportsmen & Sportswomen" & did not need to make money racing horses. They were descendants of old families who had racing in their blood through tradition. Today's owners & trainers are a different "breed" if you will. Some good, some bad, of course. That has always been true.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for reading and commenting. Lucky–would love to hear this story one day. One day…As Lynne and I have discussed, I'm not sure that those "grand old days" were quite as grand in reality as they are in memories…but perhaps memories are what matter most now?BSaint: Certainly thought of you as he crossed the wire!

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