Kelso, 1960

Kelso was Horse of the Year five years in a row, 1960-1964. Of course Charles Hatton wrote about him all five years. I decided to compromise and present Hatton’s take on the 1960 and 1964 campaigns, the first and last of Kelso’s titles. So here is Hatton on 1960 Horse of the Year Kelso from the 1961 American Racing Manual.

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“A good big horse can beat a good little horse,” our Profiles last year began. Events of the 1960 season recalled this most elemental of the sport’s adages, always among the first which racing’s Nestors inculcate in the apprentice turfman. The tyro learns it about the time he discovers it is traditional to refer always to Regret as “the only filly who ever won the Derby.” However, the one about the built-in superiority of the big horse to his smaller rival is the broadest sort of generality, like the prudence of pursuing a policy to “never bet on  a horse who wears bandages.” There are certain reservations and numerous exceptions, as in all the body of dogma and cant that has grown up about the turf. Some of the most honorable horses this observer has seen in his brief time came in small, gift-wrapped packages. There were the unforgettable thrills afforded by Round Table, Seabiscuit, Sir Barton, Roamer and Old Rosebud . . . the list goes on “like a roll of drums,” as Woollcott said reciting the poor, proud Duke of Toledo’s high orders. Any of those mentioned might have walked beneath a standard set at 16 hands.

The most recent of our monographs on the “Horses of the Year” dealt with an individual distinctly “on the small side” in Sword Dancer. And just before him, there was Round Table. Now, again we have to consider a subject who compensates for a deceptively unprepossessing physique by having those greater qualities of courage, speed, stamina and the instincts of a racehorse in such abundance he won his spurs in combat with the largest and strongest of his species. We refer of course to Mrs. Richard C. du Pont’s splendid gelding Kelso.

Every champion has his critics, and the balloting on 1960’s Horse of the Year found nine of 31 voters were disposed to think Bald Eagle more deserving of the port’s highest honors. Again, it was said of Kelso that “he beat nothing.” But that has been said of virtually every champion since the fabled Flying Childers. . . . A horse may not be held responsible for the shortcomings, real or fancied, of his rivals.

Suffice it to say that Kelso, virtually unknown until midsummer, beat all the horses who were led up to him, including Bald Eagle, not to make too sharp a point of it. He scattered his presumptuous rivals like a fox scattering a barnyard of chickens and broke or equaled time marks with unpremeditated abandon. The iconoclasts are reminded, ever so gently, of Napoleon’s advice to “look at the record.” Clearly he needs no apologia.

Conservative Juvenile Career

Kelos’s career would serve persuasively as an argument in favor of conserving two-year-olds. He started only three times in 1959, competing in little races at Atlantic City, where he was first once and twice second. This was experiencing as a “campaign” and good if insufficient evidence that he had potentialities. But he was small, as a first foal sired by the smallish Your Host, had a trick stifle and was gelded. Kelso, by the way, is the second neutered thoroughbred to be acknowledged and hailed as the Horse of the Year. The other was Armed, in 1947, who compiled earnings of challenging and singular importance for a gelding, $376,325.

It is regretted in bloodstock circles that Kelso is castrated and thus is lost to breeding, precisely as it was deplored that Exterminator and Armed were unsexed. And yet who can say any gelding would have been quite as formidable in competition or so attractive as a prospective sire had he remained entire? Exterminator strode up and down our turf at a time when there was a weight advantage for geldings. He had “character” and was positive and opinionated, as was Armed at an early age. Additionally, Armed was, like Kelso, an uninteresting animal individually. Perhaps as an entire horse these two would have proved too crotchety and too small and muscle bound to have made his mark in racing. . . .

Missed Triple Crown Events

Kelso did not burgeon as a candidate for three-year-old laurels, to say nothing of the Horse of the Year title, until after Venetian Way had won the Derby, the tragic Bally Ache the Preakness and Celtic Ash the Belmont. Though Kelso did not strip for any of the Triple Crown events, it is not quite accurate to say he won none of the classics. After all, there are many conservative, responsible racing men who consider that the two-mile, weight-for-age Jockey Club Gold Cup is the most demanding and thus the most distinguished classic on our calendar.

Kelso was a Juggernaut, crushing all opposition, old and young, in American record time of 3:19 2/5 in our turf’s proudest test of speed and stamina. Perhaps future generation will feel it rather more an an abridgment that Kelso did not compete on the grass than that he did not start for a Triple Crown race. All the signs and portents of this drawing new era of internationalism suggest that the versatility to assert superiority on the turf courses will become a prerequisite when badges of merit are awarded.

It has been stated that Kelso is a peculiarly uninspiring animal in the eyes of those turfgoers who look for esthetic appeal in what are actually equine athletes. Everyone admires a handsome thoroughbred. But to expect that a champion will have the quality and beauty of an Arab of the purest Anazeh strain is a bit thick, like expecting the next heavyweight contender to turn up at the ringside with features as nicely tailored as a matinee idol’s. Except for certain homogenous lines relating to correct angulation and muscularity–which are in themselves something to seduce the eye of the practical horseman–it does not necessarily follow.

Many contemporary horses are so finely bred they appear “all ruffle and no shirt.” In our view, Kelso is precisely as his fair owner and describes him: a good, hard, racing-like type. His format is categorically that of High Gun, another scion of the dynastic Hyperion, and his maternal grandsire, Count Fleet.

In training, Count Fleet and High Gun were like Kelso, of moderate stature, all whipcord and steel, the attenuated sort who might be mistaken for fillies from a distance. Counterpoint, another Horse of the Year by Count Fleet, is of the same conformation. . . .

Kelso is a dark bay or brown with no conspicuous marking, in fact none about his head. . . . Kelso is a level individual who gives the impression of being lengthier than he is tall, and he certainly is rather more a horse of scope than short coupled. . . .

Kelso and Sword Dancer, whom he succeeded to the throne, are of the “middle distance” type of Equipoise. . . . It was said of Kelso, “He seems to run more strongly the farther he goes.” . . .

Jockey Eddie Arcaro is confident Kelso can run in any going, but trainer Carl Hanford refrained from accepting a Washington, D.C., International invitation because he did not care to chance soft turf and breaking from the strange Newmarket barrier for fear his charge would injure himself. . . .

The Horse of the Year is a good doer, as one might guess from his campaign. Also, he is a gentleman. Only once, for a few inconsequential furlongs in the Jerome, did he fail to get up on the bit as Arcaro expected. . . .

Kelso’s breeding is the happy result of a deliberate outcross, Mrs. du Pont explained. “You see, Maid of Flight is American, while Your Host is English.” Pursued, in extenso, this comes to hybrid vigor. A. B. Hancock refers to hybrid vigor as the “greatest ally the breeder can have in producing topnotch racehorses,” though it would seem detrimental at stud. But neither Your Host nor Maid of Flight is inbred, so what the Wilmington sportswoman has done is pursue the fromula exploited so successfully by James R. Keene and Col. E. R. Bradley, who crossed native and imported lines. This is probably as commendable a pattern as any if one’s object is to maintain a private stud and stable. . . .

Maid of Flight is a stakes-class mare who was placed in the Philadelphia Turf Handicap, Jeanne d’Arc and Margate. Her dam, Maidoduntreath, by the magic Man o’ War, did not race but bred the Hollywood Oaks winner Mrs. Fuddy. . . .

But Mrs. du Pont says that “Kelly’s” pedigree is one part “science” and two parts confidence in game little Your Host, in whom she is a shareholder. We suppose you are familiar with the California Derby winner’s uncompromisng fight for life when he was in a sling for many months with a broken shoulder and crushed femur as a consequence of a fall in a race on the Coast. Kelso must have inherited some of his spirit.

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