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…
I now had a swollen head, for Kelso was getting the best out of me. Still, I couldn’t tell you how good the horse was, and neither could anyone else. That day, he came out of the stall to walk a half hour, and graze in the sun, but you could not hold him.
Carl [Hanford] came over to me and asked, “Do you think he will be okay on the grass?”
I said, “There is no way I’m taking him out there. He will be loose in one jump, so he is going to stay in the barn.” Carl agreed.
I told Carl, “I don’t know what your plans are, but I know one thing, whatever race you put him in, he will win. There’s not a horse on this track that can ever run with him, so they better go out and get something that can run at him.”
That was just the way I felt, and Carl said I was crazy. I might be crazy, but there was one thing I did know, that Kelso was ready for any horse, but being an exercise boy, I was not supposed to know that. I don’t think Carl would not believe me on anything I said about Kelso, but there have been times when Carl wished I had kept my mouth shut. If I started talking about Kelso to [his groom] Bill [Hall] or anyone in the barn, Carl would come as close to us as he could without letting us know he was all ears.
I stayed at the barn, and my room was next to Carl’s office, so sometimes, I would stop at his desk to look at some of his memos and condition book that he left there. Well, I saw a condition book from Hawthorne Racetrack, and I said to myself that he was looking for something out there in Illinois.
I got to thinking that if I was the trainer, we had just won the Lawrence Realization on September 28, 1960, and we would have to fly out there. The last trip on the plane was a real nice ride out there. While I was looking at the book, I started to turn the pages, and there it was, a mile and a quarter on dirt. I knew that distance was right for him. The race was the Hawthorne Gold Cup, a big $100,000 stake.
No one knew what his next race was, and I didn’t say anything about my looking at the condition book from Illinois. That morning, Carl came in, went right to his desk, picked up the phone, and called someone. I had this gut feeling that it was Mrs. du Pont. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, and while he was on the phone, I got to thinking what the date was for that race.
He got off the phone, came out, and asked me what horses were ready to go to the track. I said that there were three ready (although I can’t remember who they were), but not Kelso, because we always waited for the sun to come up before we took him out. I got on my horse, and the other exercise boys got on theirs.
Going out to the track, Carl had his head down, and was just thinking his head off. All of a sudden, I said to him, “Boss, you study long, and you will study wrong.”
Carl looked up at me and laughed, “Sounds like you’ve been talking to Fitz because those were his famous last words.” Right enough.
We got back to the barn, and Carl said, “Let’s take Kelso out and take him to the school ring field where they school jumpers because there was a lot of good grass back there. On the way back to the jumper field, I asked him if he knew when we were going to run again.
He said, “I can’t make up my mind right now, but I have to call Mrs. du Pont and see if what I say will work out or not. There is a race out in Illinois that I want to run him in, the only thing is that it is too damn far out there, and he gets the worst part of that race.”
I told Carl that you can’t ask him to do any better on the plane ride because I thought he really liked it. That helped Carl make up his mind when I said that, and we also had plenty of time because the race was on October 15 which was more than two weeks off, and that was okay for all of us.
The next morning, we were out with him first, while it was still dark, and nice and cool. The fog was on the track, so it looked like a good day for a mile and a half gallop. I knew he was going to be tough, for he bucked like a bronco in a rodeo, and just played the whole mile and a half. I knew he was on his good side. It was time to get on the plane at Idlewild Airport [the current JFK airport in New York City].
We got there, and I saw this large loading chute which was straight up in the air. I looked at that thing, and I said to Bill, “What do you think?”
He said, “That s.o.b. thing scares me, just looking at it.”
As the van pulled up, they slid the van ramp next to it. I looked at Bill, and I could see he didn’t like this one bit. He unsnapped Kelso from the van pole to turn him around so he could see what he had to walk up without slipping on it.
Bill started out of the van to the ramp with Kelso, who went without even looking at it, got on the plane, and walked back into his box. Bill just stood there while they put on the front of the box. What a horse! He shipped better than me or Bill. We got there okay (Thank you, Jesus, for a safe trip!).
The van got us [in Chicago], and we stopped just down the runway to pick up On and On, a Calumet horse who was also in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. While they were standing next to each other, I was sitting on a bale of straw, looking, and I noticed how different On and On and Kelso looked. One was so much bigger. On and On had all these muscles, and was so big in front that you could roll a barrel between his front legs. Kelso’s front legs (not that I want to say anything bad about my horse) looked like they came out of the same hole.
We get to the track, and On and On got off first. We went two barns from him, and it was sure a mess there. I got out of the van and into the barn. There were no lights, and no bedding in the stall because we had called and told them that he stayed on the dry bedding.
Anyway, we had to hold Kelso for about an hour, waiting to get the stall ready. In the meantime, it started to rain, and I do mean rain, a really big mess. I got all out tarps out of the van, and got water for him so he could have a drink. We had our own water, Mountain Valley Spring for the years Kelso ran. The Mountain Valley people gave us free water everywhere he went so he didn’t have to change water all the time. Well, our stay dry bedding came, and we got Kelso in his stall.
As soon as Bill turned him loose, he laid down, rolled over two or three times, got up, shook himself off, and was all right the rest of the night. Bill and I stayed up all night because we didn’t have the beds that they said would be there. We sat on the shed row all night, dozing.
The next morning, Carl came and said that it had stopped raining. He said that he was going walking this morning, so I walked with him out to look at the track, and I had never seen mud like this. It looked like axl grease, black and gummy. The race coming up was going to be one, big mud ball.
Bill got Kelso looking real good, leaving the barn to go to the paddock. We had to walk the wrong way on the outside rail. I was on a borrowed pony, and to my surprise, he was better than our pony in New York. Bill had to walk in that mud wearing his good shoes, and boy, was he mad. I heard him say that he didn’t get paid enough to do this shit (pardon my mouth). We made it to the paddock, and the first jock I saw was Eddie [Arcaro], coming down the steps with his nice, new colors on and white mud pants which he would need.
I got Kelso standing there, nice and quiet. Carl and Eddie were talking about how bad the track was, and Eddie was rubbing Kelso’s neck and saying to him that mud was not going to stop us. I was glad to hear Eddie talking to Kelso, and to know how much he thought of this horse. When I heard the call for riders up, Carl gave Eddie a leg up, told him good luck, and said to bring him back clean. I believe that meant to go to the front with him. I told Eddie we blew him out yesterday, and he felt like he could handle the mud okay.
Now I didn’t know anything about this horse, Heroshogala. I knew he could run, and everybody there liked him. Also, On and On was coming off some good races, and I still had that picture in my mind about how much bigger he was then Kelso. Oh well, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Also, Carl told me that he sure didn’t like running him in this deep track, and how sticky it was because of his stifle. Although I never saw it bother him, sometimes, walking out of his stall, he would just stop fast and stand a minute. We would back him up a little, and he would be just fine.
We warmed up, and Eddie said, “Did you bet on him?”
I said, “No, I sure can’t stop with one bet, if I bet on him.”
“Well, don’t say that!” Eddie replied, “because I bet $1,000 for you and $500 for myself.”
“Thank you very much, Eddie,” I said, “for you are going to make some money today. Just hang on because he is on the muscle, and they won’t know which way he went.”
They load up, and Kelso was in the four hole. As soon as the man said go, Kelso broke right with them. From the back of the gate, you can’t really tell where your horse is because they are running straight away from you.
When they hit the turn, I could see Kelso was real close to Heroshogala, and I could hear the caller saying that Kelso had got the lead, and was galloping home six lengths in front. I came running with the pony, and the track policeman held the pony for me so I could get my picture taken. They had some kind of floral blanket on his neck, and he sure looked good. I was proud of him, and when they took the blanket of flowers off, they gave it to me, and on the way back, people were asking me to give them a flower, and I did. By the time I got to the barn, I didn’t have any left.
That afternoon, Eddie came by the barn before he went to the airport to catch a plane to New York. He told me and Bill to get into the cab, and we did.
Eddie said, “I want to thank you two fellows for making my job so nice. Here is a little something for you two (the money won with his bet). I want you to know this is a great horse, and I know people will always hear of Kelso. I can’t tell you how good he is, but Carl and you two have done a great job. You gentlemen, get out of the cab, so I can get home, and I will see you at the Jockey Club Gold Cup because Carl told me a few minutes ago that was his next race.”
When he left, Bill and I just stood there, looking at each other, just to think we had one of the best jockeys come and see us, to give us a cash stake and tell us what kind of horse we had. Well folks, Eddie Arcaro was a man with class and a real gentleman, God bless him.
Read the next chapter Kelso’s first Jockey Club Gold Cup