Prologue to Dickie Jenkins and the legendary racehorse Kelso by Anne Pfister
Although I was not part of Kelso’s life, he was a great part of mine, for as a teenager, I loved Kelso dearly. I was twelve years old when I first read about Kelso. My parents had taken me and my siblings on a Xmas vacation to California. One morning, sprawled on a motel bed reading the sports section while my parents got ready for a Disneyland excursion, I noticed an article about the Malibu Stakes and a possible rematch between Kelso and Tompion. However, Disneyland beckoned, and I filed the article in the recesses of my mind.
Image: Eddie Arcaro, Kelso, Mrs. du Pont and Dickie Jenkins walk into the winner’s circle after the 1960 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Later that spring, I had seen my second Kentucky Derby and had fallen completely under the spell of horse racing. It seemed a magical sort of world, the horses so beautiful to look at, the races so exciting to watch. I began reading the racing news religiously and cutting out articles for a scrapbook. I read about Kelso making his first start as a four year old, easily winning an allowance race, and the “miracle mile” on Memorial Day.
At that time, the television program, “Race of the Week,” ran commercials showing his stretch run. I must have seen that commercial at least twenty times, but each time I could swear that no horse could have ever made up so much ground. Harry Carlin was understating the obvious when he wrote, “Maybe they saw a great horse today.” How could I not have been impressed with such a courageous little horse? And ridden by my idol supreme, Eddie Arcaro. That was just icing on the cake. I was hooked. I would follow Kelso’s career through its ups and downs, and even when people would say that he was finished, I always had faith he would come through, and to his credit he did.
When Kelso finally retired, I felt that fate had dealt him a bad hand, as I had been looking forward to his becoming the first two million dollar horse. Although I would follow racing for some years afterwards, I could never muster up the same enthusiasm. Racing did not seem to offer the same attraction. The TV programs offered less turf history, purses were growing larger, and careers shorter. I still have to chuckle at the idea of longing for the good old days in my twenties.
In 1980, I was able to do something I had long wanted to do: visit Kelso. Woodstock Farm was not so far away, and when my husband and I made our way through the driveway, he pointed to a bay horse grazing. Was that him? No. I knew that was not Kelso. I saw another horse in the distance, and I knew at once that it was he. He came over to the fence. I was thrilled, for he graciously allowed me to pet him, feed him some apple slices, and tell him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me. I still think this was the closest thing to a religious experience I’ll ever get.
Anne and Kelso:
I remember the day he led the parade for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Watching him turn toward the crowd and prance, I thought to myself that he could show those younger horses a thing or too, if he wanted. And two days later, as I was getting ready to go to work, I picked up the paper on the door stoop, and there was the news that he had died. I was devastated. There I was, standing with the paper and weeping that he was dead. When my husband found out what happened, his only remark was, “Well, he was an old horse.” I wonder if any court in the land would have found me guilty if my husband had “accidentally” fallen out of the window.
After reading Steve Haskins’ biography of Kelso, I wrote to Dickie Jenkins to express my gratitude for his pivotal role in making Kelso the great horse he was. I thought that would be that, but imagine my surprise when he contacted me, and asked if I would help him write about his life with Kelso. I demurred, suggesting that it might be better to seek the help of a professional journalist, but he replied that the letter I wrote to him showed real passion, that I was the one for the job. I had always dreamed of writing the definitive life of Kelso, and here was my chance, albeit a roundabout one.
Dickie felt some concerns about his own writing, admitting he was not an educated man, but I assured him that whatever he wrote, to write in his own voice, for the best writing comes from the heart. When one writes with honesty and heart, readers both respect and respond. I even quoted the great Roman lawyer Cicero, who told his students to stick to the subject, and the words would follow. As for my part, I felt honored to help Dickie with his memoir which I felt would do honor to Kelso’s memory as well as Dickie’s devotion to him.
Dickie began to mail me handwritten pages, roughly fifty at a time. I would read them, eventually becoming used to his handwriting, and then type them out, correcting grammar, and constantly reminding myself that it was his voice that had to be heard, not mine. I found his story fascinating, for his memory was quite clear, and as I transcribed, I felt as though I was there. I can only regret that he didn’t live to finish the work, for his recollections of Kelso’s later career would have been quite interesting to read.
I was left with a half finished manuscript, and was unceliain what to do with it. Although I was grateful to have been part of this work, I felt that Dickie would have wanted it to be published in some form, for I know he was very keen to have his story told, to have a voice. I approached several writers, but was told there was no interest. I wasn’t ready to accept this, for I felt this manuscript had value, and considered myself keeper of the flame.
I felt that I could not give up, for l owed this to both Dickie’s and Kelso’s memory, as well as to Kelso’s jockeys, Eddie and Milo. When I discovered the Colin’s Ghost website, I believed there was hope, and contacted its editor, Kevin Martin. And the rest, as they say, is history. I hope the readers enjoy Dickie’s story, and find the ride as interesting as I did.