Oct 20th 2010 08:00 am |
I am now in my third year with Colin’s Ghost and find myself circling back to subjects previously covered. One unavoidable topic, especially around this time of the year, is the great Kelso. While horses like Secretariat and Man o’ War dominate the first two places on all-time-great lists, it is Kelso who, in my book, deserves top honor as the greatest of all-time.
Yes, Kelso had the advantage of being a gelding (did I just write that?), allowing him to race longer than the others. Yes, Secretariat put together the greatest Triple Crown run in history and Man o’ War decimated his opponents, setting records in the process, but neither of their careers, top to bottom, can match that of Kelso. Kelso won five Horse of the Year titles and won thirty-nine times from sixty-three career starts.
While his performances in the Jockey Club Gold Cup exemplified his dominance, the Washington D.C. International exemplified his greatness. The D.C. International stood as Kelso’s white whale. He only won it once from four tries but his defeats, on a surface he did not prefer, speaks volumes to how good he was. In today’s racing where owners and trainers seek out the “best spot” for their horses, Kelso’s owner and trainer put him in the D.C. International four straight years, knowing the world-class competition he would face, knowing it was anything but an easy placement for the best horse in training at the time. They were rewarded with four of the greatest performances of his career, even though only one ended in victory.
In searching through the race films at Critical Past, I found footage of the two races that served as bookends for Kelso’s career on turf. One covers the 1961 D.C. International at Laurel Park, the first turf race of his career, and the first of three straight second place finishes for Kelso in the race. The second reports on Kelso, four years later, finally winning the race that eluded him.
The first clip, from 1961, provides visual documentation of the heart and fight of the great champion. After setting the pace for much of the race, he lost by only 3/4 of a length to that year’s Grass Champion, T.V. Lark. Watch Kelso give everything he had in the stretch:
Three years later, Kelso would finally break through in the 1964 D.C. International with a 4 1/2 length victory to conclude his fifth straight Horse of the Year campaign. It would be the final turf race of his career. Here is news reel footage showing the 1964 Horse of the Year winning the big race at Laurel:
As the newsreel reported, many believed Kelso would be retired but he returned in 1965. He won that year’s Whitney at Saratoga while winning three races from six starts. He raced once in 1966 but was retired early that year at the age of nine.
The same years that Kelso ran in the D.C. International, he also won the Jockey Club Gold Cup. This would be the equivalent today of competing in both the Breeders Cup Turf and Classic. In the 1960s, the International and Gold Cup were arguably the most prestigious turf and dirt races in the United States, just as the Breeders Cup is today. When Kelso ran in both races, they were separated by two or three weeks. In five seasons, he had six wins and three seconds in two of the most important races in the country. An unbelievable feat unlikely to ever be matched, Kelso deserves top billing among the greatest horses of the twentieth century.
SOURCES, NEWS, AND NOTES
As I said in the beginning, I have written about Kelso in this space before — check out all the articles here
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!