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, 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.