A horse was born on this day in 1957. Here’s a little story about him.
(Note: the photo was taken on the day I wrote about, with Hanford & Arcaro)
THE MIGHTY KELSO.
There once was a racehorse. But only once.
His name was Kelso.
Among other things, he was named by The Blood-Horse Magazine as the fourth greatest racehorse of the 20th century – right behind Man O’War, Secretariat & Citation.
He was Horse of the Year for FIVE straight years (1960-1964).
No other horse in history has achieved that. Not even close.
He was U.S. Champion Older Horse for FOUR straight years (1961-1964).
Again, a one-&-only.
He won the Jockey Club Gold Cup each & every year from 1960-1964.
Unprecedented & unmatched.
He was remarkable.
And in every race, he carried the grandstand on his back. That means, he’d be carrying something like 134 pounds on his back while his competitors were in at something like 112, 116, 118.
Bill Hartack was his jock for a while. Then Uncle Eddie Arcaro. Then Ismael Valenzuela. The best jocks on the best horse.
Now, I have a little story to tell about the mighty Kelso.
For most of his career, he was trained by a gentleman named Carl Hanford. Carl was an ex-jock. And he rode with my Uncle Johnny, back in the day. And he was friends with my grandfather, Grandpa Jake. Carl looked up to Grandpa Jake as a father figure – going back to those days when he & Johnny were 14, 15 years old & vying for leading rider status on tracks all up & down the east coast.
Fast forward a number years.
It was August, 1969.
And my family always went to The Spa the weekend of the annual yearling sales. Oh, hell, we never bought anything – we weren’t in that league. But it was always a great weekend with plenty of outstanding races.
And I had the choice, that weekend: To go to Woodstock or to Saratoga.
And, even though I’m a child of rock ‘n roll, I chose The Spa. Because racing runs as deeply in my blood as rock ‘n roll music. Maybe a little deeper.
And, so, on Friday night – at the Fasig-Tipton sales, I found myself standing with Grandpa Jake.
He tapped me on the shoulder & I turned around.
“Jim”, he said, “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine…..”
It was Eddie Arcaro.
I was dumbfounded.
“M-M-Mr. Arcaro!”, I blurted.
“Jimmy”, he said, “I’m pleased to meet you. Any friend of your grandfather’s a friend of mine. Oh – & call me ‘Uncle Eddie’.”
I was beside myself!
The great Arcaro telling me to call him Uncle Eddie!
Well, we stood there for a few minutes, exchanging pleasantries & all, when I asked him, “Uncle Eddie – what was it like to ride Kelso?”
And he said – & I’ll never forget this – “Jimmy, I’ve never been on a more powerful horse in my life – even Citation. When Kelso kicked it into gear, my head would snap back. And, once he got underway, all I could do was sit there & take a ride. He knew he was the champ & even you could’ve won on him. He was that good.”
The next morning, my family decided to have “Breakfast at Saratoga”, where white-jacketed waiters would serve you, trackside, with flowers blooming everywhere & the horses working out not 30 yards from your table.
And, as we were sitting there, a gentleman walked up to us & asked us if he might sit down with us.
It was Carl Hanford, Kelso’s trainer.
And it was like old home week between him & Grandpa Jake & my mom. They reminisced about Uncle Johnny & days of old & all of that. And I was kind of speechless, because this was KELSO’S trainer!
And Mr. Hanford told us that, later that afternoon, between the 7th & 8th races, the now-retired Kelso would be parading up the track – all by himself.
Hole E. Moley! I was gonna get to see Kelso!
And so it happened.
Between races, the announcer spoke over the loudspeaker: “Ladies & gentlemen – Please turn your attention to the head of the stretch……because here comes the mighty Kelso!”
And people ran to the fence. And people stood on their chairs. And, me? I crashed through people & pushed & bulled my way right down next to the rail.
And here he came.
And, you know what?
He knew he was the king. And that we were his followers. His legion.
Because, as he approached the grandstand, he began side-stepping, facing the crowd. His head began bobbing up & down. He got on the bit.
He was acknowledging the crowd. His followers & his subjects.
And, as one, 40,000 people began to cheer. To clap & cheer louder than I’ve ever heard. It was deafening.
And then, Kelso was passing in front of me.
And, to this day, I believe in all my heart that he looked me in the eye. And nodded, as if in acknowledgment.
It was one of the great moments of my life.
So, next time that somebody tells you about a so-called ‘great’ horse, tell ‘em to look up a guy named Kelso.
That’ll shut ‘em up in a hurry.
You gave a kid – & millions of people all across this land – something that they’ll never forget.
Not in this lifetime, anyway.
Thanks for the memories