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…
It was January, and the wind was blowing like a hurricane. I was cold. Bill [Hall] was cold, and so were Carl [Hanford] and Kelso. We stayed in the barn for three days, for it was so cold and windy that we could hardly stand it. Mrs. du Pont came into the barn, and she was talking to Jim Holahan, the farm manager, and just as I turned the corner of the shed, I heard her say, “Aiken, South Carolina.”
I didn’t hear the rest of what they were talking about, but that night I went to the barn to check on Kelso and visit him in the bunkhouse.
As soon as I opened the doors, I heard Jim yell, “Are you ready to go to Aiken, for you and that horse are leaving tomorrow?”
Well, I was glad I had gone over to the bunkhouse, because I wouldn’t have known I was leaving until the next day, so I was thankful for the warning. I went home and told my wife. She asked if I wanted her and the kids to go with me.
I sat down on the floor, played with my son, and tried to think what to tell her. I really wanted to go alone, but my heart wouldn’t let me do that. I told her that if she wanted to go, get ready, for we were leaving.
My wife wasn’t happy, she said this business just gives you a minute to get into your car, and take off with two kids, that this wasn’t fair. I told her that I couldn’t help it, and please, not to get mad.
We arrived at Aiken late at night, and the kids were tired. My wife was tired too, and I was numb from the lack of sleep. I found a motel, and put everyone to bed, and then took off for the training center to see how the horses were doing. There was no one around, and here it was, 1:15 A.M. Kelso was laying down, and looked okay, so instead of going back to the motel, I slept in the training barn.
The sound of a feed tub banging woke me up, the horses showed they wanted to eat by pawing those wooden floors they had. I told myself that I had better get back to the motel, and take my family to eat somewhere around here. When I got back there, my wife was upset because I didn’t let her know I was going to stay overnight at the barn. I told her I was sorry, and that I just didn’t think to tell her, but I was really tired from that night. I took a shower, changed my clothes, and went to the barn.
When I got there, Carl had not arrived, and Fitz asked me what we were going to do with Kelso. I knew that he sure wasn’t going to the track, so I told Fitz to clean him up, and I would start walking him. After about ten or fifteen minutes of walking Kelso, I started to hear people talking in back of the barn, and when I came around to Fitz, I asked him to go back and find out what was going on. Fitz came back to me real fast, and said there was a whole busload of kids, and they had come to see Kelso. Well, that was okay with me, but Carl would not like that one bit.
I told Fitz to go and tell whoever was in charge of the kids not to come running around the barn, but to come nice and quiet, so you won’t scare the horses. The kids came, and they were being as quiet as kids could be. I told the lady who was with them to take them in front of the barn, and I would bring Kelso out so they could see him, and I could tell them a little bit about him.
I brought Kelso over, and began telling them all about him. They were so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Then I asked if there were any questions. They wanted to know if he did any tricks or if I could make him rear up. Did I ride him in the races, and was he my horse? I said that the answers were no, no, and yes. When Mrs. du Pont was here, he was her horse, but when she left, he was mine. They said that that was sure cool.
They didn’t really know what kind of horse he was, for all they knew was that everyone knew he was famous. I told them that he was the fastest horse that they would ever see. When I said that, one kid said that he had a horse at home which he rode every day, and when he let him run, he didn’t think there was a horse around that was that fast.
I told him that I had heard there was a horse around here who was pretty darn fast, and we had better keep Kelso in the stall while we were here. Anyway, the kid stood up, and said that would be a good idea. Two other kids came up to me, and told me that they had seen this horse run, and there was no way Kelso could beat him. I told them I sure would like to see this horse because I like fast horses. I was just like that when I was a kid.
The best thing about this story is that while I was talking to the kids, guess who was standing behind the barn door? Carl! I turned around to put Kelso back in the stall when I saw him. I was waiting for him to start yelling at me for leaving him out there with all those kids. Wrong!
I put Kelso in his stall, and when I turned around, Carl said to me, “Dickie, that was the best story I ever heard. I didn’t know you could talk like that.”
I didn’t know how to take that, if he was making fun of me or just being nice. I decided he meant it in a nice way, and thanked him.
It turned out that the kids wanted me to come and see this horse which they liked. I came to find out that every kid around here knew this horse. He was about fourteen hands high, and he was fat. The boy’s mother told me that every boy around here had ridden him, fed him sugar and carrots. and the horse loved every minute of it. That was something which helped me stop thinking so negatively about Carl and my wife.
The next morning, we got Kelso out and went out to the training track. That track was like being on the beach. The sand was so fine and soft that even Kelso knew it. While we were out there, Carl said that we should gallop around the half mile pole, just enough to loosen him up. I was galloping him around the turn, when I saw these heads sticking out of the trees, and it was five of those boys I had talked to the other morning.
Carl and I were on our way back to the barn, when we came upon the boys standing at the outside rail. When we got to them, one boy said, “Mr. Jenkins, we saw him running a while ago, and we would like to take back what we said about our horse being fast. We just saw Kelso fly around this track, and there is no way our horse can beat him.”
I told them, “You never can tell what a horse can do, and if you like your horse as much as mine, there is no telling what he can do. Ain’t that right, Carl?”
“You better believe it,” he said.
Read the next chapter Kelso ships north for his 1961 campaign