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…
This was not a case of bragging. I knew what he could do. It was now race day at Laurel Race Track for the Washington D.C. International at a mile and a half. I had a good feeling this day that he was going to be all right with his first trip on the grass.
At this time, I had not seen Eddie [Arcaro] at all, and Carl had told me that he might tell Eddie to put him on the front. I kept some old racing forms in the trunk of my car, and I found one that had all past performances of the horses from Russia, Denmark, France and the other countries. There was not one horse that had speed, and the only horse I could see running with him was T.V. Lark.
We started over to the paddock, and there must have been fifty or more people following us there. They were all yelling and jumping around. But Kelso was his old self, just looking right in front, not side to side. When he does that, he has his mind on racing and getting the job done. Every time I took him to the paddock, that was the way I could tell he was going to run like hell, and there was nothing going that could stop him. We got in the paddock, and Carl told me to take him once around the ring and bring him into the stall so he would settle down and not have all the people surrounding him to take his picture.
I get him in the stall, and [his groom] Bill let him put his head over the pony’s neck. When he did, Kelso looked at me as if to say, “Don’t worry about a thing.” I told Bill, and he started to laugh.
Carl asked what was so funny, and Bill said, “This damned exercise rider you got here just told me Kelso said you don’t have to worry about a thing.”
“Oh shit,” said Carl, “he’s started up with that again. Well, let’s hope he’s right.”
I got to looking at all the people in the paddock which was so crowded that there was hardly enough room for your horse. Then I saw at my left in the stall next to us, just about two feet from me and looking straight at me, was Susan Hayward, the movie star.
She said, “That sure is a nice horse you’re on.”
I couldn’t say anything because my mouth was wide open. I was just plain dumbfounded. Eddie came over, and the first person he spoke to was me, saying that we would get the job done. While he was talking to me, I pointed to the movie star, and he agreed that was quite something.
Carl started to put the tack on Kelso, and then someone yelled that a horse was loose. I turned and saw this horse running around, and people were trying to get out of the way. They caught him, and I think this was the French horse.
Kelso was all tacked up, and I looked at his forelock. The yellow ribbon I put there was gone. I was ready to tell the track people that he can’t run without his ribbon. I tapped Bill on the back, and when he looked up, I told him the yellow ribbon was gone. He told me it had fallen off and he had it in his pocket. I asked him to put it on him, but he told me that I was crazy, for Kelso would not stand still enough to put it on him. I said I would put it on, while Bill kept saying I was going to mess Kelso all up trying to do this.
I went around the walking ring, and told Eddie to try and hold his head toward me. Eddie looked at me and asked what I was trying to do to that bridle. When I told him I was trying to put the ribbon on his forelock because it had fallen back there him, he said that I should hold up and put it on him when we get on the track.
We got on the track, and Eddie said to get to the outside fence, and we could stop him there. I knew he would stand there, so we didn’t have to worry about him. When we got to the fence, we stopped, I grabbed a handful of hair from his forelock, and began to tie the knot.
Eddie said, “Dickie, you are something, boy. Before I forget, let me tell you what they said in the jocks room. That Irish filly, she is a real mean one, and she will kick anything that is behind her, so watch out. I think that is her in front of us.”
We warm up, and they open the infield gate. Kelso started his old thing, just looking down the track. The assistant starter came up and yelled at me to come to him when we are ready. I walk up the turn and gallop back to the tape.
Kelso knew what was about to happen. All the other horses got up to the tape, and the assistant starter came and got Kelso. I turned the pony around and took off the wrong way to the gate to the main track. But just before I left, I heard what sounded like a loud slap.
Anyway, it didn’t take them long to let them go. I just got out on the main track, turned my pony around, and looked down the track. I could not find Kelso, but when they got to the turn, I saw two horses head and head. I didn’t know who was with Kelso till they came around the clubhouse turn. It was T.V. Lark, going head and head with Kelso down the backside, and they were still head and head as they reached the far turn.
I said to myself, “Eddie, you better get going because T.V. Lark is a good grass horse and he isn’t going to take back, so get your ass going.”
They were at the head of the lane, and both were still head and head. At the sixteenth pole I could tell that one of them was a head, then a half length in front. It was over, and Eddie was pulling up with T.V. Lark, and Johnny Longden was saying something to Eddie. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew we didn’t win.
That just let all the air out of my sails, but you can’t win them all. By the time I got over to the other side of the track, all the riders were on their way to the jock room. I saw Eddie and Carl talking by the scales, and Eddie was moving his arms back and forth, so I guessed he had some trouble, what I didn’t know, for I didn’t see any. I get to Bill, and he handed Kelso to me. He was walking before us, and then he said, “Hold up, Dickie. Let me have him, and you look at his hock.”
He took him, and I got behind him. His hock had swollen as big as my head. I came up to Bill and asked what it looked like to him. Bill said that it looked like one of those horses kicked him or he wrenched it somehow.
We got back to the barn, and started to wash him. Bill said, “Dickie, look at this.”
It was his left ankle, and it had started to fill. When we got him washed, and started to walk him, I told Bill to take him so I could see him walk. He walked okay, and it didn’t seem to be hurting him.
Carl didn’t get back to the barn for twenty-five minutes, but when he did, he asked me how the horse was, and I told him about the hock and ankle. Bill brought him out on the road so Carl could look at him, and his ankle had gotten bigger. I told Carl that it had swollen even more since the time we washed him.
Carl took off to find the vet to look at him. Dr. Merrit came with him. Doc was the best vet in Maryland. He didn’t think the ankle looked like much, that Kelso might have stepped in one of those holes out there, for the turf was full of holes. He had been talking about the holes for months, but nothing had been done to fix them, But he said the hock looked as if he was kicked by a horse or a horse hit him during the race,
While we were checking his legs, the vet who worked the start in the afternoon came over. He asked Carl how Kelso was after the race, Carl told him not so good. [The vet] said, “I can tell you one thing, I don’t see how he made it around the track. That Irish filly kicked the hell out of him, It sounded like you slap a fat ass with your hand open.”
I told Carl that when I gave Kelso to the assistant starter, I didn’t see it, but I sure heard it. That was why Eddie said he kept changing leads all down the backside. The vet said that he was hurting pretty bad, I knew one thing, that this showed that he had guts which is why you have to watch him because he will not tell you when he was hurting. Carl had never seen this horse take a bad step, and after two years of training, he had been as sound as a dollar.
Carl said we should put this behind us, told me to just put some Bowie mud on the hock and ankle, and walk him for four or five days. He thought Kelso would be just fine, We stayed at the track for an extra day before we left to go to the farm.
Johnny Knowles came with our van to take Kelso to the farm, When we got there, we took Kelso for some long walks, and he sure did like that.
Read the next chapter: Back to the farm and a walk in the woods with Mrs. du Pont