The following is an excerpt from the memoir of “Dickie” Jenkins. Jenkins served as the primary exercise rider for the legendary racehorse Kelso and was a longtime assistant for trainer Carl Hanford. Click here to read more from his memoir…
Two days before the Met, me and Carl [Hanford] had a talk about another horse in the Met. He asked me if I knew the boy who galloped All Hands. Yes, I did. That was Zek Baget, and I had coffee with him just about every morning.
Carl wanted to know if he had ever said anything about him to me, and I said that I would ask him. The next morning, he came into the coffee shop with two friends, and we sat down.
He began to talk about the Met, and when I did, Zek said, “Dickie, old Kelso is going to have his hands full when he tries to catch this horse because he is going to wing ding it to the front, and the rest will just have to run and catch him.”
Well, I just sat there, and let Zek do the talking. I knew Zek real well, and he was one of my best friends, but he was the kind of exercise boy (and I don’t mean this in a bad way) who likes every horse he gets on because Woody Stephens always has good horses. He said that Kelso would have a ton of weight on him, and he didn’t think he could catch All Hands, and that the only other horse in the race he was afraid of outside of Kelso was Sweet William.
Well, I got out of there, and I wanted to make sure I could get Kelso ready for the big one. The next morning I told Carl about our talk, and he said that he hoped I hadn’t gone in there and started telling everything about our horse. I told Carl that I wasn’t that dumb. I just sat there and let him do the talking, and boy, did he.
He said he didn’t think Kelso could handle the weight that [Tommy] Trotter was going to put on him. Kelso was going to be carrying 130 pounds, and All Hands, I think, got in with just 117, so that was what we would be up against.
Carl asked if I thought he was that good. I said, “He will give you everything he’s got and more. And I tell you this. They’d better be glad that they have a handicapper like Trotter who will load him down so they can get a head start on him because that is the only way they can beat him, and to be honest, I don’t think they can beat him now.”
“Dickie,” Carl said, “Don’t overload your mouth.”
I went into the tack room and took Kelso’s bridle to clean it up so it would look real nice. I also made sure I had my yellow ribbon and my other good stuff. While I was in the tack room, Bill came in and said that he had heard that All Hands was a front running s.o.b., and I said, “Bill, you are rubbing the best horse on the track, and don’t worry about All Hands. Okay.”
Bill said, “Dickie, you are as crazy as they come about this horse. You think he is unbeatable.”
“You got that right. So you get him all shined up, and put on your best pair of boots, for I’m going to get the pony, give him a bath, and wear those buckskin pants Mrs. du Pont gave me, if they still fit. When I get up in the morning, I know the sun will be shining, and Kelso will be ready. Tommy Trotter can put the grandstand on him, if he wants, but we will still kick the shit out of them. Ain’t that right, Bill?”
“Dickie, don’t talk like that. We will get beat for sure. You know when I go home every other weekend, my family will ask me about Kelso, and I don’t know what to say. They ask me how good he is, and I say I don’t know.”
Bill would say that his family told him that the people who work at the Maryland race horse farms said they never heard or saw a horse that good. That should have told him something.
Here it was, race day, and everybody is ready to go to the paddock. Me, I’m down at the pony stall, tying a yellow ribbon on the pony’s forelock. Bill tied the yellow ribbon on Kelso’s forelock. I told Bill that it would give Kelso good luck, if he did it. Carl came in, and walked up to Kelso. When he did, Kelso reared up, as if to say, “Let’s go get ’em, boss, and kick the living shit out of them.”
He was as ready as any time I saw him. I had so much confidence in this horse that Mrs. du Pont would just stand there and turn to Carl and Bill, who were with her at the barn, and say, “Does Dickie talk this way about Kelso all the time?”
Carl would say, “Well, Missus, he is like me, but I don’t talk about it like he does. He and that horse have something going. I don’t know what, but whatever it is, it is good.”
We made it to the paddock, and I’m starting to get shaky and nervous. When I turned my pony around and faced Kelso, Kelso took his nose and pushed my knee, pushed on the pony, put his head right in the air, looking as straight as he could into my eyes, and then put his head down, not moving at all. When I saw this, my chest started to pump with my heart beat, and I knew right then and there, and I’m not trying to put anyone on, that this horse was going to win.
At that time, Mrs. du Pont said, “Dickie, what do you think?”
“He will win.”
“My God,” she said, “Carl, did you hear what Dickie said? I hope you got it right, Dickie.”
I know that everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I can’t help it. That’s the way I feel, and when Kelso does that in the paddock, you can count on him. He will give you his best and more. What a buddy to have! He doesn’t have to talk. You can feel it under your butt, and in your hands, when you hold the reins. He talks to you through your hands when you touch him.
Here comes Eddie [Arcaro]. He shook hands with Carl, and Mrs. du Pont gave him a hug, and asked him if he was ready for all this today. Eddie smiled and said, “I couldn’t think of anything better to do.”
The man said riders up, and Carl gave Eddie a leg up. Kelso was still standing there, and Bill turned to walk him out to the ring. Carl told Bill to give him to me, and he did. Kelso put his head up on my knee, looking very calm. I was wishing and hoping that Eddie would not ask me about Kelso.
I just wanted to go to the gate, put him in, and let him go. You know what? All Eddie said to me that everything was going to be all right. When the gate handler took him, I tried not to say anything, but I yelled good luck at Eddie, and took off to the chute where I could get a good view and see how he was running.
Back there, you can’t tell who is who unless they have bright colors. Eddie wore bright gray and yellow, so I made myself get stuck on those colors. They’re off, and I could tell Kelso was back in the pack, but couldn’t tell what horse was in front.
The crowd was so loud that I couldn’t hear Fred Caposella call the race. Then all of a sudden, I heard the name All Hands in front by six, and I had lost Kelso, and couldn’t tell where he was. When they hit the turn, the crowd seemed to have quieted down, and I heard the caller say that Kelso was running fourth, and All Hands was still winging out in front.
When they hit the quarter pole, I saw Kelso way back there with horses in front of him. Then my whole body went numb, and I said to myself that there was no way he was going to win today.
The tote board was in my way and when they went behind it, All Hands was five lengths in front, and Kelso was behind a bunch of horses. There was no way he could get around those horses soon enough to catch All Hands. The crowd had the grandstand shaking, and when the horses came from behind the tote board, there were two horses head and head, and I couldn’t tell who they were or hear Fred Caposella’s call until they came around the turn at me.
Glory be, it was Kelso and All Hands! Eddie gave me a wave and yelled, “Dickie, he won!”
From the tote board to the wire, it was less than a furlong, and the only way he was going to win was jump over the horses in front of him, and I know he didn’t do that. Eddie pulled him up, snatched
him to the outside of them, and ran All Hands down at the wire.
Now if that ain’t a good horse, I don’t know what is. I thanked God for that race, and taking care of my buddy and Eddie. I know Kelso made everybody in the stands happy, and everyone who loved him so much.
I took off for the winner’s circle for the picture, and as soon as I got there, the track policeman grabbed my pony for me, so I could get in the picture.
Eddie was coming into the winner’s circle, and stuck his hand at me. I grabbed it and shook it so hard that I almost jerked Eddie off of Kelso. Carl came over to me and gave me a big hug that almost made me faint.
“Dickie,” he said, “I never saw a horse do what he did. I knew he was a beat horse, and there was no way he could win. I even turned to Mrs. du Pont to tell her how sorry I was. Then, all at once, Kelso was on the outside, running like he came out of the gate, and I still didn’t think he could catch him. Well, he did.”
Mrs. du Pont gave me and everybody else a big hug, for she was one happy lady. Eddie got off, came over to Carl and said something I couldn’t hear, but then he came over to me and said he wanted to talk to me the next day. I said I could meet him anywhere he wanted. He said 10 a.m. at the grandstand where we had talked before.
I tried to figure out what happened behind the tote board. I guess it was a case of not being allowed to see how your higher power works. I suppose the Lord really does work in mysterious ways. While I was at the winner’s circle, everybody was talking at the same time, and I couldn’t tell what they were saying about the race. Every now and then, I could hear them say how great it was that they had a chance to see a horse run the way he did, how he got to the outside of the three or four horses that were in front of him, and how far in front All Hands was from the wire. Kelso ran that 200 yards to the wire so fast that the even people there that close couldn’t tell how he did it.
I got on my pony, and Bill handed me Kelso. We started back to the barn. While I was walking back, Kelso stuck his head up in my lap, and looked right at me, as if to say, “That will give them something to talk about for a long time.”
I told Kelso that those people don’t know whether to scratch their heads or their asses, but it’s true enough that they didn’t know how he did it, and I thought that was the way we should leave it. The day was long, and everybody was still all excited about the race, but Kelso was doing okay after running such a big race. I heard the vet at the test barn ask Bill how he won that race.
Bill said, “I didn’t see the finish at all because I was sure he was going to get beat, for there was no way he was going to win today. All I can say is that crazy exercise boy has said he was going to win no matter what. So you figure it out.”
The vet laughed and said to Bill, “You know, things will get in your head, and if you think hard enough, and pray and mean it, it will come true.”
Bill looked at the vet and said, “You are crazier than Dickie,”
Crazy or not, in comes Mrs, du Pont, and I heard her on the other side of the barn, telling everybody how Kelso won the race, Carl came in behind her, and started walking with me and Kelso around the barn, He didn’t say anything the first time around, but when we got on the other side, Carl said, “Hold up, I want to feel his ankles.”
When he stood up, he put his hand on my back, and said, “Dickie, you got a great horse here, and I don’t care if he ever runs another race in his life, there won’t be anymore like him. We got the Whitney coming up in about two weeks, and let’s see how he comes out of this race. I’m going to work him three days, and check around to see who will be going in there, I don’t think much will be in there, but I shouldn’t say that either, for that is when you can get your horse beat.”
Carl,” I said, “never talk or say beat around this horse anymore.”
“Here you go, saying all that crazy stuff. He can’t win them all, and you talk to him all the time. Sometimes, I think he knows what you’re saying.”
“Well he does,” I said, “and he told me that he was going to give you something to think about.”
Carl just stood there, looking at me and the horse, as if he was thinking that maybe both of us are crazy to think this, Carl laughed, smiled and said, “That would be one helluva thing, to know I had a nut in the barn, and that’s just about the last thing I need. Mrs, du Pont thinks that you talk to the horse.”
Holahan said, “Kelso has thrown everyone but Dickie, Jim is the one that said Dickie should stay with this horse because he thought Kelso was a nut at the farm, and Dickie and him would make a good pair. Both of them are nuts,”
I don’t know about that. All there was to me staying on him and not getting thrown was that I could ride and they couldn’t.
Read the next chapter Eddie Arcaro on Kelso’s Met Mile and preparations for the Whitney