“The most successful gelding of all”

NYRA photo, from Hall of Fame

“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.

9 thoughts on ““The most successful gelding of all”

  1. Ahh but the decision to geld him allowed him to be on the track longer, and not be rushed off to the breeding shed. And perhaps contributed to his overall stamina and durability? Something I wonder about.

  2. Great article. Kelso is one of my all-time favorite durable geldings, along with Forego and John Henry.

    Isn’t there a story about the three of these racing greats getting together shortly after John Henry’s retirement for an on-track celebration? I can imagine the biting and nipping that went on among those three! I believe Kelso died shortly after this event.

    Thanks for this article, Teresa. It’s a wonderful piece of racing history.

  3. Andrea, thanks for the reminder; I had meant to mention that and link to the articles about it, and a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago.

    Linda, that was mentioned frequently in many of the articles about Kelso…if he hadn’t been a gelding, he wouldn’t have accomplished so much.

  4. I remember when Kelso returned to Saratoga at some point after his retirement, so sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, I believe. He gave a brief dressage and jumping exhibition between races, on the home stretch of the turf course. The obstacles were typical show jumps (standards and rails), not the imposing brush fences used by the steeplechasers.

    I recall he was ridden in this exhibition by Lana duPont (Mrs. duPont’s daughter, and the first woman rider to compete in three-day eventing in the Olympic Games a few years earlier in 1964 in Tokyo). I can’t recall with certainty, but something tells me his appearance might have been to encourage fan support for the U.S. Equestrian Team, which fields our teams for international competition.

    It was a treat to watch the old campaigner show his other talents to racing fans at the Spa.

  5. Kelso is the reason I became a racing fan. While still in college, I was privileged to interview Mrs. DuPont at her farm and sell my article about Kelso to Turf & Sport Digest. The thing I remember most about her was that she was pure horsewoman, and completely down to earth. I don’t believe we will ever see the likes of Kelso (and, by extension, John Henry and Forego) again. A 5-time Horse of the Year? Two-mile races? Carrying weight? Racing into age 9? Those were the days!

  6. Kelso, was and, is the greatest racehorse ever and, there will never be another kelso. I’m not even gonna go into the so many reasons why he was the very best of all-times except to go and, compare kelsos’ dc performance to secretariats’ belmont, which some people call the greatest performance by any race horse of all-times. The dc is againts the best horses in the world and, not just againts a very good horse and two average horses, which secretariat faced in belmont. Remember sham broke down. Kelso did this dc in a timing of 2:23 4/5 for 1 mile and a half , a half carrying 126 pounds on 3 turns to secretariats’ belmont 2:24 flat for 1 mile and, a half carrying 126 pounds, on 2 turns. Now if it is true at all that grass is a secound faster than dirt doesn’t that secound go to hell being that kelso did it on 3 turns and, not 2 turns? Let’s not forget this kelso perfomance was againts the best horses in the world, including gun bow who was related to him and, was quite a racehorse! Let’s also remember secretariat according to jim squires, was on steroids, he died at 19 years of age which is rather young for a horse to die, and, the reason was laminitis, a decease that comes from steroids. Looks like the big heart was from the steroids he was on. Where was the big heart the secfretariat fans brag about when he lost 5 times. They never raced prove put again and prove out beat him giving away 7 pounds to him, they still compalin that secretariat was not trained for that particular race that it would have been riva ridge but, they thought secretariat would do better than his stable mate riva ridge. Prove out whupped riva ridge too, by the way.So go ahead and compare kelsos’ dc in 64 to secretariats’ belmont, so far all the people, and, I’ve talked to alot of experts, and, they give it to the great kelso. By the way that includes Leonard Lusky who works for Penny Chenery who was secretariats’ owner. Kelsos’ biggest fan, Teddy.

  7. Thank you for taking us back to the time of the “mighty” Kelso. Your article reminded me why I fell in love with racing and it was Kelso. I am privileged to own one of the last postcards that were sent out from Bohemia Stable to Kelso’s fans thanks to Mrs. du Pont; she also had the Jockey Club send me a beautiful 8×10 colored picture of Kelso. I had both, along with the notecard she enclosed, matted in Bohemia Stable colors and framed. It hangs, proudly, in my living room. We WILL never see his likes again . . . thank you again for such a wonderful article.

  8. By the way, the 3 turns kelso did at the dc were much tighter turns than the 2 huge sweeping turns that secretariat did at belmont! The tight turns are harder than the huge sweeping turns. Also add that they weren'[t using gates at the dc because the foreign horses didn’t use gates, so that would have also thrown kelso off. Still kelso did the last quater faster than the first quater in that race and, set a record at 2:23 4/5 for 1 mile and, a half on grass. Never mind that the great kelso did this only 11 days after breaking his own record in nine other than the jockey gold cup which was 2 miles back then, at 3:19 1/5 and, that that was on a sloppy track on dirt! He must be the only horse to break a record on dirt and, then on grass only 11 days apart! Mind boggling! He won the jockey gold cup 5 times when it was 2 miles, he did it in a row, and, only 9 ither hiorse ever woin it twice in it’s 87 year history! He did it in a row and, 2 of those years he was also one of 3 horses to win the jockey gold cup, the woodward and, the whitney the same year! He was the greatest rachorse of all-times and, there will never be another kelso. I would have like to seen secretariat win in the handicapp races, the most he ver gave away was 9 pounds, for a big horse like he was. He lost 5 times as it was andm he wasn’t giving away much weight to other horses! Kelso was and, the greatest racehorse of all-times all things considered. Didn’t have to wear blinkers neither, considering he had to be gelded to be calmed down, and, still was never a real nice horse! To show you how cheap opinions are, bloodhorse, and, I know some of the people over there and, most are very nice, have citation 3rd and, kelso 4th greatest horse of all-times, even though Eddie Arcaro who rode them both, not only said kelso was greater but, that kelso ‘would have beaten the shit out of citation’. Goes to show you. Kelso was and, is the greatest racehorse of all-times. Amazing for a horse that looked like a deer and, weighed about 1000 pounds and, was gviing away all that weight to even some really good 3 year olds and, still won horse of the year 5 times in a row, only horse to ever win that many! Kelsos’ biggest fan Teddy.

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