Kelso Bounces Back to win the Woodward, 1961

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 shipping to Illinois and finishing fourth in the Washington Park Handicap] I could not wait to get back to New York because the trip was just a waste, and I blamed myself for it. I decided to put it in the past, and get on with another show.

Carl [Hanford] took it all right, but Mrs. du Pont was as mad as she could be, for she couldn’t understand why Carl had run him, knowing he had a bad shoeing job. Carl didn’t say too much that day, and he couldn’t wait to get out of [Illinois], for he knew Kelso was going to have trouble running over that hard track with no sole on his feet.

Bill [Kelso’s groom] and I were all set the next afternoon to load up on the plane. We had Cookie, my dog, with us, and Maty Everett had a dog box made for her so she wouldn’t be in the way on the trip back to New York. Carl came to the barn, and said he had taken Mrs. du Pont to her plane. When he got there, he took off his jacket, and hung it on the rail. He walked down the shed row and was talking to one of the trainers. When he put his jacket over the rail, I saw something fall out.

I walked over and picked it up. It turned out to be his condition book for [Belmont Park in] New York. Well, I opened to the page he had marked, and the first thing I saw was the Woodward, a mile and a quarter race which was about twenty-five days away. I showed it to Bill, and he said to turn to the other page to see if he had marked anymore. As I was thumbing the pages, I saw him coming down the shed row, so I put it back into his jacket pocket.

That afternoon, the van came, and took us to our plane, so we were off to New York. Boy, were Bill and I happy. On the flight back, Bill asked me if I thought he would be all right by September 30, if he can grow some sole out on the bottom of his feet. I told him that he would grow the sole out before September 30.

I hoped Carl would walk him for two days, and that Bill would watch and make sure he eats up. Bill knew what I had been doing, and Carl said that was fine. I had been feeding him carrots with the oats, and sometimes I would put a little Kayro syrup which he sure loved. I told Bill to just watch him, for he knew what to look for, and we didn’t want him to colic.

I know I sounded like I was the trainer, but Bill knew that I knew when he was sick. I’m not saying Carl didn’t know when he was sick, what I’m saying is that I could spot it before Carl, and he had no trouble with that. Carl, Bill and myself were a team, and sometimes I thought Carl thinks we were trying to take his job. We would just laugh at him, and tell him that if he couldn’t do the job, we would take over. He would laugh at that, and get in a good humor, but he knew we would be watching every move he made, and when you have a horse like Kelso, it’s hard to trust anyone.

But we knew Carl did have trust in us. He knew if something happened while Kelso was in our care that we didn’t do it to hurt the horse. I know I would never hurt Kelso, and Bill too. We always tried to see things run right, and make sure Kelso was taken care of before we did anything else.

Bill would ask me if I did anything in the barn that he should know about, and I would always do the same thing with Bill. That way, we were always sure that things were alright. We would tell Carl if there was something wrong or something he should know. And now, we were trying to get him ready for the Woodward. His feet were starting to grow out some, and he wasn’t walking badly at all. I knew he wasn’t hurting as badly as he was two days ago. Three days of walking him helped a lot.

When we got back from Illinois, I knew if Carl walked him for three days, he was going to be a handful. He was so tough that I always had to watch him to make sure he didn’t wheel out from under me.

The next morning, Carl got there real early, so we could get all the other horses out first. That way, we could spend more time with Kelso. That morning, after they harrowed the track, there was hardly anyone out there, and that made it better for him because when he was feeling like he was now, he would be bucking and playing every time a horse passed him.

It was now close to the end of September, and the Woodward weight for age was coming up. Kelso got in there with 126, and I knew he was going to be hard to beat, for he had trained real good up to this race. We blew him out the day before the race, and went three eighths in 35.4, and that was as slow as I could hold him without swinging all over the track.

Race day was here. The man has called all the Woodward horses to the paddock. I tied the yellow ribbon in his forelock, and had a real good talk with him. When I started talking with him, I could hear Bill out there saying, “There goes that crazy S.O.B., talking to the horse like he is going to say something back to him. Dickie, you are crazy. Did he say anything back?”

“Yes, he did.”

“What did he tell you?”

“He said not to worry about a thing, that he was going to bring the money home. Okay?”

“Well,” Bill said, “I hope he is right because I’m running a little short from that last race he ran.”

“He will pay you back, Bill, and give you a little more.”

We got to the paddock, and Kelso was not one bit nervous. When Bill took him to the stall to be saddled, Kelso started staring out across the trees and not moving a hair on his body.

Carl looked up at me, and said, “Dickie, Bill told me that you were talking with Kelso before you left the barn.”

“Yeah, I was talking to him.”

Mrs. du Pont said, “Dickie, I hope he had something good to tell you.”

“He did, Mrs. du Pont, and he said not to worry about a thing, and that he would bring home the money.”

“My God, Carl, did you hear what Dickie said? I think he is a fortune teller, and he is right most of the time. Well, Dickie, I know he will win if Kelso said it.”

“That is what he told me, and when he said it, he’ll win.”

When the man said riders up, Carl put Arcaro up, and as he got close to me, he said, “Dickie, you got those people thinking Kelso is really talking to you.”

I told him, “He does talk to me, and all you have to do is sit there, and he will put you on the front end.”

Eddie said, “Dickie, don’t start that bullshit with me. I know horses don’t talk.”

“Eddie, you have to have faith, and you can hear every word he says. Isn’t that right, Kelso? You see, Eddie, he said yes.”

“I didn’t hear nothing.”

“I told you that you have to have faith because this horse is going to win big time, so get yourself ready.”

I’m at the gate, and I see Carry Back, Whodunit, Tompion, and Divine Comedy. It was a small field in this race, and just before we got to the gate, I told Eddie he could ride Kelso anyway he wanted. The only one that might challenge was Divine Comedy, and I knew he could take him.

We were at the gate, and Kelso was on the outside. He was looking right in front with his ears pricked and not moving a hair. They break, and Kelso was right there with them. Divine Comedy was in front by a neck, and Kelso moved up just enough so he could look him in the eye. I can tell you this, Divine Comedy didn’t like the way Kelso was looking at him. Kelso ran about three eighths of a mile, just letting Divine Comedy smell his breath. As soon as Eddie got him at the head of the lane, I said to myself, “Eddie, just cluck to him, and he will see them later.”

That’s what he did, and won by eight lengths just galloping. Then, all I could think of was that Tommy Trotter was looking at this. I found myself hoping that Kelso hadn’t broken the track record or run too fast. When I got up close to the tote board, I could see the half in 46 1/2, , the three quarters in 1:10 3/4, the mile in 1 :34 4/5 and the mile and a quarter in 2:00 flat. I told myself that I could bet my shirt that Tommy will load him up in [weight for] the next race. The track police took my pony so I could get my picture taken. Bill took Kelso over to Mrs. du Pont so she could lead him to the winner’s circle.

Bill saw me coming and said, “Kelso was right, Dickie. Now I think I heard him too.”

I laughed and said, “That’s all you got to do. Keep your ears open, have a little faith, and he will tell you more.”

Bill took him from Mrs. du Pont. Mrs. du Pont and her daughter, Lana, were there in the winner’s circle, and one of their friends, as well as Carl and myself when we were photographed. When our picture was taken, Mrs. du Pont hugged Carl and Eddie, and when she saw me, she grabbed me by my the neck and gave me a big hug and kiss.

“Dickie,” she said, “Kelso is the best. It is sure nice for him to have a horse like him. He has made everybody happy, and they all just love him so much. What a horse!”

I went and got my pony from the policeman, and thanked him for holding him for me. As I started to get on the pony, the policeman said that Eddie wanted me to come over to the fence.

I went over by the fence, and Eddie said, “Dickie, you just keep talking to this horse because I do believe he does talk to you. I know that you have faith in him, and that’s what makes you hear him when nobody else can hear. You see you got me talking like a nitwit, but that’s okay. Dickie, you are alright with me.”

Carl came over by the fence, and Bill was walking up to the track so we could get to the test barn. Carl told me to look at the tote board so I could see the time on this horse. I said that I had seen it on the way in, and I bet that Tommy [Trotter] had seen it too. Carl told me that I had gotten that right.

At the test barn, I had started walking Kelso. Carl walked with me to the backside of the barn, and then told me to hold up so he could feel his legs. I stopped and Carl ran his hand down one leg and then the other. He said, “It’s amazing this horse stays so sound.”

“Well, Carl,” I replied, “look at the way he trains. He loves everything he does. The only thing I don’t like is that he is like some people when he gets all ready to run, knowing that he is going to run, he will hold everything inside which is why he gets the colic sometimes.”

Carl told me not to start that, since he hadn’t gotten the colic, and won with speed to spare. I told him that this was true sometimes, not all of the time. I thought Kelso had butterflies in his belly, and didn’t know how to handle it. I believed he had an ulcer.

Carl was sure I was crazy, for he had had the best vets look at him, and not one ever said that. But I noticed that the vets never checked him for that, so Carl couldn’t really know. I noticed that whenever we are going to work him, and Bill lays those bandages by his stall, he knew he was going to work.

When we got to the barn door, he would wait until he was almost at the track, and then he would start cow kicking, so I would know that he had the colic. Still, if we took him back to the barn, and give him fifteen minutes in the shed row, he would be all right.

Read the next chapter Mrs. du Pont’s aversion to blinkers