Kelso’s lost trip to California, 1960

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…

After the [Jockey Club Gold Cup], we all went out for dinner, and we were all talking about Kelso and what his next race might be. Mrs. du Pont said to Carl [Hanford], “What about that race which you were talking about in California?”

When I heard that, everything I was eating just stuck in my throat, and I could not swallow. I thought, “Why in the world would you want to go to California? The tracks out there are hard as brick, and this horse’s feet can’t stand that. There are plenty of races here, and I know we can win them. Now here, Carl wants to go to California for what reason I don’t know.”

This pissed me off bad, pardon my mouth. I just couldn’t see the reason why they wanted to take him out there. The only thing I can come up with was to let the west coast see him, and let him run with some of their good horses, and believe me, they have got some horses who just love that hard track. Every two weeks, some horse breaks a track record. Kelso just didn’t like that kind of track, because it stung his feet. He’d feel bad, and have no fire like he does on a normal track.

After the Gold Cup, we went back to the farm [in Maryland], for Kelso had just run two miles, and sure did need a rest, even if he didn’t show it. Kelso couldn’t talk, and you would think that one of us humans would say, “Yes, let’s give him a rest.”

I’m sure Kelso was saying to himself, “They’ve gotten stuck on sending my ass on a plane 3,000 miles to a race track that is harder than a black top road. They know I can’t do my best on a hard track, and they know my stifle might start acting up, if I just gallop a long time over it.”

When it was time to go to California, I couldn’t go because my wife was about to give birth to my daughter, and it was best that I stay home. I told Carl if he was worried about who to get on him, he should let me call John Block. I knew he could gallop him okay, and that way, you don’t have to put a stranger on him.

John showed up a week before they were to leave, I believe, because he and a friend wanted to drive out there. He talked to Hanford about galloping him in California. Carl told him not to mess up, and make sure he was there when we got there. Also, he wanted to talk to me to see if he might be too tough to gallop. I told him if Kelso got too hard, to tell Hanford to gallop the pony alongside and hold him. I told him he would be okay, just to use some common sense on him.

They get out there okay, and John was there like he said he would be. Kelso shipped like a good horse should. I don’t know what was going on out there, but Mrs. du Pont came over to the training barn, and told me that the horse is not going worth a damn out there, and she wished she had not sent him there.

Carl called me and said his stifle was bothering him, and wanted to stay a few more days to see if he would come out of it. I knew one of those races was seven eighths of a mile, and they had some of the best sprinters in the country out there who could fly over that hard track. Running seven eighths of a mile in 1 :20 or 1 :21 was nothing to those horses, for they were used to the track, and loved the hard surface. I could just see Kelso working it over, and coming back to the barn as lame as a three-legged dog.

There is an old saying that a hungry trainer with a good horse is real bad for the horse. I’m not claiming that about Carl. What I’m saying is that Carl hadn’t ever had this much money coming in so fast with this horse, and that caused him to make bad decisions. I think that is what happened with Carl and Mrs. du Pont.

Not long after, Carl calls and tells me that he’s leaving on the morning flight by Flying Tiger Airways. When they back to the farm, Mrs. du Pont was very unhappy about the whole trip.

Read the next chapter Kelso winters in South Carolina prior to his 4-year-old season