Nov 11th 2008 12:47 pm |
Throw a dart at an historical time line of racing in the 20th century and you have a good shot of hitting Kelso. Kelso dominated the spotlight during the first half of the 1960s on his way to five straight horse of the year awards. Today marks the 44th anniversary of Keslo’s win in the Washington D.C. International at Laurel Park in Maryland.
Image: Keslo standing on the turf at Laurel Park, 1963 (Turf and Sport Digest)
The D.C. International was an invitational turf event held at year’s end that attracted horses from all over the world (very similar to today’s Breeders Cup Turf). In its 43 running’s from 1952 to 1994, 13 horses won the D.C. International and also won turf horse of the year. Three horses (Kelso, Fort Marcy, and All Along) won the race in route to horse of the year honors. (see chart of winners below)
Kelso, known for his prowess on dirt, rarely competed on turf and yet his connections tried the International four times before he finally broke through at age 7. The win was his first and only significant grass victory (He ran second in the Man O’ War in 1962 and won 2 out of 3 allowance races on turf).
In his first three tries in the International, he ran three seconds all by less then 1 1/2 lengths. His race in 1962 is considered by some as one of the best of his career. After contesting a hot pace, he was passed in the stretch by Match II in a finish so courageous that it brought his jockey Milo Valenzuela to tears. Kelso’s victory two years later, in his fourth and final try, made the victory that much sweeter for owners Allaire du Pont and trainer Carl Hanford, both Maryland based.
Here is how the legendary sports writer Shirley Povich described Kelso’s victory in the 1964 Washington D.C. International:
“For the International it was June in November and they came in a swarm, bringing money through the traffic snarls. The crowd figure hit 37,800 with the new great society well heeled, and dumping $170,748 into the betting of the second race. It was an uptake of $14,000 over the comparative wagering on this day a year ago and perhaps a pleasant reflection on the state of the national economy.”
“The excuse for the party, though, was to be the seventh race in which Laurel was putting up 150,000 for grabs to cement international good will and, incidentally, cut the betting pot. It was the 13th running of Laurel’s horses-to-horses program designed to prove that horses could be friends. Seven foreign countries were accepting combat against the native born Kelso and Gun Bow.”
“Socially, it was a split-level crowd ranging from horse players in the grandstands to the snobbery that could be bought in the clubhouse that was topped in turn by the Brahmins in the Turf Club. As the big race neared it was evident, too, that they were all voting on a split-ticket, casting their wagers for Kelso and Gun Bow, with scorn for the foreigners.”
“The first voters profile analysis on the odds board showed that Kelso was the 6 to 5 favorite with Gun Bow at 9 to 5, with the Soviet Analine the long shot third choice at 15 to 1. The increasing action brought Gun Bow down to 3 to 2, but undisturbed were the 6-5 odds on Kelso, the famed seven-year-old bachelor deemed most eligible to win the race.”
“From the barns across the track they came into range for the saddling with Kelso bare-backed, his handlers disdaining the official Laurel blanket that came with the race. Aniline, the Russian, proved big of neck like previous Soviet entries, and Ryu Forel, the Japanese, came into the saddling ring not only blanketed but hooded in white. ‘He looks like trick or treat,’ Joe Kelly said.”
“They behaved fairly well in front of the gate but Eddie Blind in the starter’s pagoda was demanding a more decent lineup before he sent them away three minutes later. It wasn’t quite good for the outside pair, Aniline and Ryu Forel or the Italian Veronese 2d, but they could correct this if they had a good mile and a half in them.”
“Anybody could have called the break. It was Walter Blum hustling his speed ball Gun Bow out of the No. 1 position and taking over quickly, but quickly, too, it was seen that Ismael Valenzuela and Kelso weren’t going to let him get away with this because the next to create daylight from the pack was the gelding in a hustle to make a two-horse race if necessary”
“Gun Bow was buck jumping out in front by four lengths when they came to the grandstand after the first half mile and these two stayers were out to make it an all-American horse race. They were throwing a 1:10 2/5 at the foreigners for the first six furlongs, sprinters time, and were having the race to themselves unless Bella Sicambre, the French filly could unload something dramatic from her third place position.”
“After dropping Kelso in on the rail as a ground-saving move rounding the first bend in the last mile, Valenzuela set the gelding down in a determined rush at Gun Bow. The daylight between them diminished at every stride and rounding the far turn Kelso had Gun Bow hooked. For the first time Kelso got his head in front, but Blum was now asking more from Gun Bow and recouped the lead, but only briefly.”
“It wasn’t known until the finish that they were headed for the fastest mile and half ever run on the grass at Laurel, a phenomenal 2:23.4 that clipped T.V. Lark’s record by a full two and two-fifths seconds. But it was known that nothing behind them was going to catch the American pair.”
“Coming out of the last bend, Kelso felt the demanding whip of Valenzuela for the first time and when he responded an eighth from home, he was home. There was a slight brush as he ranged up on Gun Bow from the outside and Valenzuela was leaning on his right rein to halt Keslo’s drift. But when he criss-crossed finally with Kelso taking the rail, it was not until he had a length and a half lead.”
“Blum made the expected foul claim, but wasn’t honored by the stewards who found no violation and perceived, anyway, that Blum had an already-beaten horse, Valenzuela crossed the finish line looking back and managing a fond pat for his mount as they went under the wire. In his fourth try for the International, Kelso didn’t miss.”
“Blum won the honors in the jocks’ room after the race with his generous tribute to Kelso. Asked if he was surprised when Kelso caught Gun Bow rounding the last turn, Blum said, ‘No, that was just about the time I expected him to show up.’ Asked what he would have done if it had been somebody besides Kelso who had come up to challenge him in the stretch, Blum said, ‘I guess I would have jumped off'”
While many believed this was to be Kelso’s final race. He returned to the track in 1965 and won the Whitney at Saratoga and the Stymie at Aqueduct. He was retired in 1966 at age 9.
Winner’s of the D.C. International and HOY Awards
1961 – T.V. Lark – Turf Horse of the Year
1963 – Mongo – Turf HOY
1964 – Kelso – Horse of the Year
1967 – Fort Marcy – Turf HOY
1970 – Fort Marcy – Horse of the Year, Turf HOY
1974 – Dahlia – Turf HOY (Dahlia won the DC Int. in 1973)
1976 – Youth – Turf HOY
1977 – Johnny D – Turf HOY
1978 – Mac Diarma – Turf HOY
1979 – Bowl Game – Turf HOY
1982 – April Run – Female Turf HOY
1983 – All Along – Horse of the Year, Female Turf HOY
1988 – Sunshine Forever – Male Turf HOY
1994 – Paradise Creek – Male Turf HOY
Note: The Female Turf Horse of the Year was awarded for the first time in 1979. From 1953 to 1978, a single Turf Horse of the Year was awarded. Dahlia was the only female to win Turf Horse of the Year prior to 1979.
SOURCES, NOTES, AND THOUGHTS
“This Morning with Shirley Povich”, Washington Post, November 12, 1964
“Kelso is a Horse for the Ages“, New York Times, October 31, 1964”
Grass, Alas“, Time Magazine, November 23, 1963
Steve Haskin, Keslo, Thoroughbred Legends Series, Eclipse Press
Linda Kennedy, Kelso: The Horse of Gold
Shirley Povich was one of the most respected sports writers of the 20th Century. The Washington Post has an outstanding tribute page to the great writer that is worth a look.
Thanks for Reading and Good Luck!