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…
We got back to New York in one piece, and Kelso made the trip just fine. Carl [Hanford], Bill, and I were so tired from all the mess we had to go through that Bill and I got a day off. That’s a story in itself to get a day off on a race track.
I had a chance to be with my kids, and to try and spend some time with my wife, since things were not so good between us, and it was starting to affect my work at the barn. Carl knew it too. I did my best to try and handle it, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want my troubles to interfere with me and Kelso. I’m not trying to say that I loved Kelso better than my wife and family. I’m just saying that I didn’t want anything to come between Kelso and me because we had a good thing going. I think the horse really knew that he could depend on me to see if he was sick or hurt which is the part of a good exercise boy, to get off your horse and tell your trainer how he went.
We were in good shape for the Jockey Club Gold Cup, for he had come out of the Hawthorne Gold Cup like a top horse should. He ran that distance like there was no tomorrow. The more I was around this horse, the more I learned about his likes and dislikes. Carl had me work him a mile on October 22 or 23, I think, and said to let him go around 1:38 or 1:39. He was getting pretty hard to gallop coming up to the Gold Cup, and was trying to lug in just a little. I knew he just wanted to get down on that rail and run.
The day finally got here for me to work him a mile. We went to the main track, and he knew he was going to work that morning because we put run down bandages on so he wouldn’t burn his fetlocks. We got to the main track from the training track.
Carl was on the pony and said, “Now, Dickie, I know this son of a gun is going to take off with you, but try and keep him within himself.”
We broke at the mile pole, and I didn’t take him right on the rail to start, but when I got to about the five eighth pole, I let him go on the rail, and he took off like he had just broken again. I steadied him around the turn, and at the quarter pole, I saw Carl with his hand in the air, waving me to slow down. Well, I had a hold that would choke a mule, and I sure didn’t want to swing him or saw on his mouth. I got to the wire and could hardly pull him up. Carl came running with the pony, and was real excited about the workout.
He said, “That was one helluva work,” and I said, “Boss, I can’t tell you how good this horse is, and he will just love two miles because he can run all he wants to in that race.”
Carl said, “You really like this horse a lot, don’t you?”
He surprised me by talking like that. I said, “This is the best job in the world, to be around this horse and all you good people. Boss, I think a lot of you, and I want to say this, that you are doing a real good job with this horse, and you really like him too. So you see, Carl, he is going to make all of us happy, ain’t that right, Kelso, old buddy?”
He worked that mile in 1.37.4, and that was the slowest I could hold him.
Race day was here, and Kelso knew it. He didn’t eat all his morning feed because when we take his hay away the night before the race, he knew he was going to run. We got into the paddock, and Eddie [Arcaro] came out of the tunnel and met Mrs. du Pont and Carl. It had rained all night, and the track was sloppy, but the bottom of the track was hard, so it wasn’t too bad. Carl was talking to Eddie, and pointed to me.
When the man said riders up, Carl threw Eddie on Kelso, got right behind me, and said something, but I didn’t hear what he said. Anyway, Eddie came up alongside me and said, “Carl said to take hold of this horse. He is on the bit, and you are to hold him till we get to the gate. Carl told me to ask you how he worked the other day.”
I told him, “Eddie, all you gotta do is hold up on him, and wait because he is going to run today, and the horses in here can’t go with him. Eddie, if he just runs back to that work, and feels like he did, I can tell you this, he will win, and if he wants to run or go to the front, let him. He’s fit and ready to go. I just hope you can go two miles, Eddie.”
Eddie laughed and said, “I’m not as young as I would like to be now.”
I told him, “Eddie, all you gotta do is ride. No work to it.”
Mrs. du Pont did not want Kelso to run two miles in this slop, and tried to talk Carl into not running him. I heard her at the barn, and I was walking Kelso, when she came in the shed row. I stopped and asked her how everything was at the farm. She really didn’t want to talk, but I said when I met her, “He sure is fit and ready today.”
“Dickie, that track is just awful, and I don’t think we should run him on this. He had enough out there in that Illinois mud.”
I didn’t want to say a word because I thought she would get mad, when Carl came and gave a short answer, “I think the horse will be okay, Mrs. du Pont.”
So we started for the gate with [jockey] Sam Boulmetis and Don Poggio in front of us. Eddie said to Sam, “Get that horse on up there, if you please. Dickie, don’t get too close to Don Poggio. I think he might kick at us, and that’s all we need just before we load into the gate. Just before we loaded into the gate, Eddie told me what Tooth and Nail was going to do in the race.
“Dickie, don’t worry. I got his number. Alex Ycaza is going to send him to the front. I heard that in the jock room.”
I knew they were trying to make Arcaro stay with him. Well, Eddie was no greenhorn, when it came to this kind of racing.
When they broke, he was right. Tooth and Nail was five in front and widening his lead. As I was watching, I could see Don Poggio gaining on Tooth and Nail. Arcaro had Kelso not too far behind them, and he was going very easily.
I said no more, for sure enough, I could see Kelso was in front. Bald Eagle was still running behind Don Poggio, and Tooth and Nail was fading.
Then, all I could see was Kelso and Eddie Arcaro just galloping at the end, and they still broke the track record, while setting an American record.
What a horse God made for me and everyone else! He did something that they can go home and tell their kids they saw that day: the greatest horse that ever hit race track!
Read the next chapter Kelso’s lost trip to California