Kelso arrives at Laurel Park for the D.C. International at Laurel Park, 1961

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…

The next morning [after the Jockey Club Gold Cup], I saw [Eddie Arcaro’s agent] Bones, and he said to me, “Dickie, Eddie told me that he rode that horse just as if he was out on a morning gallop. He said he never picked up his stick, and did not cluck to him. He just sat there, and galloped two miles.”

Carl [Hanford] came in that morning and took us all to the race track kitchen for breakfast. I told Carl that Kelso was not even breathing heavy when we were in the test barn. He had three or four drinks of water, and was ready to go home. Carl said that he came out of the race just fine. I wished it could have been closer to the D.C. International, so it would have been a good prep for him, but we had three weeks or more to that race, and he should be fresh and ready to go.

We left The Kitchen, went back to the barn, and got things all cleaned up. Bill and I sat down in the shed row, and started to talk about how well this horse was doing. He had not shown any signs of colic in a long time, and we thought it might be bad luck to talk about it.

We got to thinking about the Woodward he had run two or three weeks ago, and looking at his time in an old racing form. He had run the mile in 1:34.4, and the mile and a quarter in 2:00 flat.

Somebody said he ran the mile in track record time. Count Fleet held that record, but I know that the day after the race you couldn’t hold Kelso on the ground, and cooling him out, he only had three or four drinks of water. He never took a deep breath. This two mile Gold Cup was just a long gallop to him. Even that day, he was not breathing hard at all.

[Kelso’s groom] Bill said, “I read books about horses like him, but I never dreamed I would be grooming one better than the ones I was reading about.”

Barry Ryan came by, and asked Bill and I out for lunch, but we had to take a rain check on that. We got so tied up talking about Kelso that we didn’t want to go anywhere. Then we got to talking about Eddie hanging up his tack in the middle of Kelso’s career, and wondering who Carl was going to get.

Eddie told me that the D.C. International would be his last. At first, I got a little mad about it, but got to thinking how old Eddie was, and all these long years were getting to him. The last race he was so tired that he could hardly talk, and Carl noticed it too. We were all ready for the D.C. International, and this was a mile and a half. I had never heard of any of the horses in there except for T.V. Lark, and I knew he was a good grass horse.

I also remembered last year in the Arlington Classic he beat us, as well as the Derby winner, Venetian Way. I thought Eddie picked a good horse to retire on because he didn’t have to ride hard to win with him. When he retires, he can say one thing, that of all the horses he has ridden, Kelso was the best, (I think all Kelso fans think the same way) for Eddie was the best rider in racing history, and has ridden all the best horses. So Eddie can sit down, and think about all he has done in his lifetime, and I wanted to thank him for riding Kelso, and I’m sure Kelso did too.

We were at the Laurel race track [in Maryland], and it was full of news writers trying to get their stories from all the trainers of the horses in the International. Some of the people didn’t speak English, so I’m sure it was hard for them to get their stories. While we were there, Bob Erwin came over to our barn to wish Carl good luck.

Bob was one of Jack Van Berg’s assistants, and he had some of his horses there. While he was there, he asked Carl if he was looking for a good pony that does it all. Carl said he might be interested, and asked what he had got. Bob told him to come over to his barn, tack up the pony and show him what he looked like. Carl told me to come with him, since I would be the one to ride him, so I went along. The pony we had was getting old, and had put on a lot of weight, but he was a nice pony to take to the paddock, for he was real quiet, and would keep a horse calm.

We got to the barn, and Bob was on the pony. He saw us at the end of the barn road, and came flying down the horse road. When he came up to us, he slid to a stop, wheeled around, took off back down the road again, came running back, and did the same thing. He jumped down and handed the pony to Carl. Carl said that he was not interested in herding cows with this horse, that he was going to take Kelso to the gate, and since he was going to be riding him around the track in the morning, he sure didn’t want a nut around him or Kelso.

Bob told Carl that he did this to show him how the pony can move if you wanted him to, that he was a real nice, quiet pony around other horses. Bob said that he had been ponying three or four horses with him every morning, so he knew that he was a good one. He told me to get on him, but don’t run him, just walk him around. I got on him, and walked him down to the end of the barn, and the next barn over was our barn.

So I took Red, that was the name I gave him that day, and went to the end of the barn. I saw Bill and some other people were standing there. When Bill saw me, he asked if that was the pony Bob was talking about, and I said it was. I asked Bill how the pony looked to him. Bill said that he sure was a real nice-looking pony, and did I think Carl was going to buy him. I told him that Carl and Bob were over there, talking, so I had better get back over there. But while I was here, I asked Bill to let me into the shed row because Kelso was watching me, and since he saw the pony I’m on, we should let him get a look at him. Bill groaned that I wasn’t going to start telling him that Kelso would tell me to buy him. Well, I decided to ask him if he likes the pony, and there was nothing wrong with that. I walked the pony to the stall door, and asked Kelso what he thought, if the pony was all right or not. Kelso put his nose up by my knee which I knew was his way of saying to go ahead and buy him, that he was okay.

When I asked Bill if he heard what Kelso said, all he could do was moan about here we go again, that you think this damn horse talks to you. I started to laugh at Bill, but the people who were standing there said to Bill that they didn’t hear a thing from the horse and asked if I thought Kelso talked to me. Bill told them not to ask him, as I was nuts anyway, making these people thinking Kelso talks to you. I said that he did, and most of the time he was right. Bill hollered at
me to get out of here, that he had work to do, so I left and started back to Bob’s barn where they were still talking. Carl asked me where I had gone, and I told him I had gone over to our barn to see if he liked him. When Carl asked me what Bill said, I told him I didn’t ask Bill, I asked Kelso and he said to go ahead and buy him. Carl snorted about my starting that again.

When Bob asked if I thought Kelso talked to me, Carl said that I would like you to think so. I told Carl that both me and Kelso like him, if that would help you make up your mind.

Carl offered Bob $1500 for him, and Bob said Jack was going to be as mad as hell when he hears I sold him to you for that. His asking price was $2500. Bob finally did sell him for Carl’s price, for that way he would have an extra stall to put a horse in that he was looking at. The pony’s name was Jr., but I was going to change it to Red. Bob said that Jack sometimes called him that.

Carl told me to go over and see the stall man to ask him if we can have an extra stall to put the pony in. I went over to his office, and he had the Russian trainer and jockey in there, getting them set up for a motel where they could stay. When the stall man saw me, he said that the interpreter just asked him what barn Kelso was in so they might go by and see him. They said that they had heard about him over there in Russia. I told him to tell them to come over, and we will show him to them, but what I had come for was that Carl had asked me to ask you if we could have another pony stall.

We had just bought a pony from Bob Erwin, and we wanted to put him in our barn. The stall man said that if there was any stall next to us, to go ahead and take it. I thanked him and went to the barn. On my way, I stopped at Bob’s barn to find out what was going on.

I saw Bob standing in the shed row, and I asked him, if Carl had paid him for the pony. He said that Carl was going to call Mrs. du Pont about the money, but he was sure it was a done deal. I told him I had stopped at the stall office to see if we could get another stall, and the stall man had said yes. Bob said that I should go ahead and take the pony, if I wanted to, that it was all right with him. That was okay with me, as I was sure Mrs. du Pont would buy him because she knew the pony we had was getting too old and slow. He asked me if I wanted to use his saddle, and I said no because we had one, even though I didn’t like it. It was like the pony that was getting old, but we would make do until we can find another. I went down to the stall where he was, and I noticed he didn’t have a halter on him. I went back to the shed where Bob was and told him I didn’t see a halter. Bob said that he had used his to put on another horse which had broken his halter. He was going to the tack shop to get another, but hadn’t gotten there just yet. I told him I would go to the tack shop and get him a nice halter. So I went to the shop and picked out a real nice one for him. The tack man asked if I wanted a nameplate on it or not. I wanted to know how much time that would take. He said about five minutes, for he did all the stuff right here at the shop, and would put whatever name I wanted on it. I said it was for our pony, and that his name was just Red, and was that okay? He said that was fine with him. I waited ten minutes, and he put the name on the halter, real nice. I asked him how much l owed him, and he said the since I had a $55 nameplate, to give him $40, and come back with the rest later. I could do that. I went back to Bob’s barn, and showed off my new pony halter.

The next morning, I drove forty miles from the farm where my wife and I lived to the barn. The barn was full of people, and Bill was all pissed off about everybody wanting to pat Kelso and taking him out of his stall so they could take his picture. Carl got there and asked if they could stay out on the road while we got Kelso ready to go to the track. I had all my riding stuff in my car because we didn’t have a tack room, only a stall where we kept Kelso’s hay and feed. Carl told me to go in the stall with Bill, and help him put the tack on him. The people there would not listen to Carl or Bill, and Kelso was all over that stall.

I put a shank on him while Bill brushed him off, and tried to clean him up some before we took him out. Carl wanted to take him on the turf, and let him see this starting tape when it was in front of him. The starter asked Carl to take him about 50-75 feet away from the tape so he could get a good look at it when the man said go. The starter yelled at me to get ready, so he could let the tape go up. When he let the tape go, Kelso jumped at it some, but didn’t seem to scare him at all. He did it again, and didn’t move a hair.

The starter told Carl that this would not mess him up at all, for he stood there better than horses that break from it all the time. I was glad to see that it was going to be all right with him. The next morning Carl asked me if I was ready to try this new gate. I told him to bring it on, for we were ready. Carl got someone to get on the pony, and he walked over to where they were schooling.

The assistant starter came over to me, and said that he was going to handle Kelso at the start. I didn’t know his name, but Carl knew him from when he was stabled here before he came to Mrs. du Pont. Carl came over and said to gallop him around back there, and then we were going to break him and let him go back to the wire. I think it was five eighths from that starting tape.

The starter came over to me and said, “Dickie, bring him up to where his head is, about five feet from the tape. Watch the tape, and when you see it starting to go up, get after him as soon as you can.”

I was going to walk up to it, and Carl was right behind him. The assistant starter had him by the head, and asked if I was ready. I told him to turn him loose. When he did, the tape went, and Kelso broke like he had done this before.

He took off like a bullet, and I don’t know how fast he ran the five eighths, but he sure was running. I pulled up at the three quarter pole where Carl was standing with the pony. Carl was pleased that he ran well, and that he had broken from the tape like had been doing it all his life.

My buddy had done well.

We had two more days to go before the race. The next day we took him to the track early before all the people got there so he could relax some. We had to get a guard to keep people from going inside the shed.

That morning, the Russian jockey was out on the grass, walking with his trainer, and Carl pulled up the pony and turned around to meet them, so they could see Kelso. They were glad we stopped, but I didn’t know what they were saying, but the jockey looked up at me, smiled and shook my hand and Carl’s.

The next day was race day, and we had horses from all over the world. I thought this was just great that all the good horses from everywhere had come to see who was boss. I got a racing form, and I was looking at the way these horse had won their races. All of them came from behind to win, and the times for some of them were not fast at all. I was looking at the Russian horse and the others, and I knew Kelso was going to jerk their heads off.  The other horses in there, I think, were like all foreign horses in that they do not run the first part of a race fast.

Bill was getting upset about all the people. Now here comes Preston Madden, his wife, Anita, and their jockey, Johnny Longden, so I went to the end of the barn and stood there, waiting to see if Carl was going to get back so he could talk to them. Well, it looked as if the old standby, me, had to do it. I walked up to Mr. Madden, and told him who I was. His wife came up to me, and said that I must be Dickie Jenkens, the exercise boy for Kelso. Mrs. du Pont had left her about ten minutes ago, and said she would meet them here. I turned around, looked over at the horse road, and here comes this gray and yellow station wagon, so I knew it was Mrs. du Pont.

When she came over, she said, “Oh Dickie, have Bill get Kelso out so the Maddens can see him.”

Well, I knew Bill wasn’t going to like this. I didn’t say anything to Bill, as he had heard Mrs. du Pont say to get Kelso out. Johnny Longden came over to me and said that they ought to leave the horse alone, since he had to run tomorrow. I wished I could say something, but I couldn’t. Then, in a snap, I heard Carl yelling down the shed row to put that damn horse back in the stall and leave him alone.

He explained to the Maddens that he gets a little upset when you bring him in and out of the stall in the afternoon. The Maddens understood, and asked how Kelso was doing. Carl said he was doing pretty good, considering all the people around him trying to take a picture of him, and even trying to go into his stall to pet him. If Bill didn’t stay right by the door, they would be in his stall.

I heard Johnny Longden ask Mr. Madden if they could leave because he had some calls to make. Sure enough, everybody loaded up in their car and left.

Getting back to Kelso, the only thing that was on my mind was that Kelso had never run on grass before. I knew a good horse can run on anything, but I still wasn’t sure how good Kelso really was. Back in New York, he won the Woodward easy, and came right back for two miles [in the Jockey Club Gold Cup] which I thought was asking a lot of him, but he did make a believer out of me. He was four years old now, and had flesh on him in places that he didn’t have at three, so I thought this was going to make him even better this year. Although he had never raced on grass, he did have two good workouts over the turf at Belmont.

From the day he first went to the center field to go on the grass, I was never able to gallop him by himself. If I tried, he would run off with me. Carl always had to gallop with me, if we went on the grass. He was just a tough horse when he wanted to be. I was sure that there was not a horse at Belmont or the Big A [Aqueduct] that could run with him when he was right.

Read the next chapter: Kelso runs a tough second in the D.C. International