“More than any other racing country, America has had its share of great geldings…” claimed William H.P. Robertson in 1964. And Kelso, he said, was “the most successful gelding of all.”
It’s nearly impossible to think about the Jockey Club Gold Cup without thinking about Kelso, the horse who won the race five times, all at two miles, setting two records in the process.
In fact, on the occasion of his fifth win, in 1964, more attention was given to the two records he set in the race (all-time leading money earner and the world record for two miles) than to the fact that he had won the race five times in a row, which isn’t mentioned until the second paragraph of the New York Times recap.
Much was made, too, of his gelded status, as it often was in articles about him. Joe Nichols wrote,
A Kentucky home-bred, he was ordered de-sexed by a veterinarian when he was a yearling because he was of scrawny proportions, with no indication of filling out.
Kelso’s owner and breeder, Allaire du Pont, took her veterinarian’s advice, but, according to one rookie racing reporter in the late 1960’s, it was not a decision that she looked on without regret.
Jacquin Sanders, writing in Sports Illustrated about his first racing assignment, in 1963, relates the story of his visit to Kelso (the horse bit him), and his phone call to the horse’s owner. The bite apparently stung less than Mrs. duPont’s treatment of him when he asked about her decision to geld Kelso.
It would not be easy to ask this highborn lady why she had gelded this proud and exceptional thoroughbred.
Nevertheless the question somehow got asked, to be followed by a silence that would have chilled an Eskimo skin diver. Then: “I fail to see how that matter could possibly be of interest to anyone,” she said. “And I don’t understand why you had to take my time to have me explain it.”
She did answer the question, eventually. With so many male yearlings on her farm that year, she was concerned about the fighting that would occur if she kept them together.
Therefore she and her trainer decided to geld the ones that seemed least promising, among them Kelso. By now I realized that it wasn’t delicacy that had brought the ice to her voice but merely annoyance at being reminded of an irretrievable error—and perhaps a wistful regard for the million dollars in stud fees that might have been if Kelso had remained a stallion.
Years later, DuPont was slightly more charitably inclined to a member of the SI staff, as publisher Kelso F. Sutton related in his farewell letter to the publication.
Last year my duties took me out to Belmont Park, where former Jockey Sammy Renick took time to show me around. He spoke of this later to Mrs. Allaire duPont, the owner of Kelso, and within a few days a photo of that great champion turned up in my mail. Written on it was: FROM KELSO THE HORSE TO KELSO THE MAN.
It is a fact that the publisher of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED invariably acquires some very special bits of memorabilia. That picture is my favorite.
Kelso’s five-year winning streak in the Jockey Club Gold Cup coincided with his five consecutive Horse of the Year titles, and while he won other significant races in his career (he won Handicap Triple Crown of the Met Mile, the Suburban, and the Brooklyn Handicap in 1961; he won the Woodward and the Whitney thrice, once via DQ), it’s the Jockey Club Gold Cup that is his.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967, little more than a year after his last race; his trainer Carl Hanford, who died last month, followed in 2006, deflecting all praise and attributing his success to his star pupil.
“I’m here because of one horse and one horse only,” he said. “I had a few stakes horses before, but they didn’t compare with Kelso.”
Kelso returned to Belmont in October of 1983, with Forego, to publicize a new organization, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation; he walked along the stretch that he had owned for five years, and that night, he returned to his Maryland home. He died the next day. Both his appearance and his death were covered generously by the New York Times and Steven Crist (links below).
He’s #4 on the Blood-Horse’s list of top 100 American racehorses of the last century, behind only Citation, Secretariat, and Man o’War. In his chapter about Kelso, Tom LaMarra quoted a March 19, 1966 Blood-Horse article:
Kelso demonstrated the durability of class. No horse in our time was so good, so long. His was mature greatness.
Sources cited and consulted
“2 Great Race Horses Will Cover Some Old Ground,” Steven Crist, The New York Times, October 10, 1983.
“A Truly Thoroughbred Day for Belmont,” Steven Crist, The New York Times, October 14, 1983.
“Carl Hanford, Kelso’s Trainer, Dies at 95.” Richard Goldstein, New York Times, August 21, 2011.
“Kelso,” Tom LaMarra, Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century. Lexington, Kentucky: The Blood-Horse, 2003.
“Kelso, A Lasting Legacy,” Brien Bouyea, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
“Kelso Dies of Colic at 26,” Steven Crist, New York Times, October 18, 1983.
Kelso’s Hall of Fame page.
Kelso’s past performances, Champions, Daily Racing Form, 2005.
“Letter From The Publisher,” Kelso F. Sutton, Sports Illustrated, June 2, 1980.
“The Kelso Bit, Or A Career Nipped,” Jacquin Sanders, Sports Illustrated, October 27, 1969.
“Time Also A Mark,” Joe Nichols, New York Times, November 1, 1964
Robertson, William H.P. The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. Bonanza Books, 1964.