Kelso, the most successful gelding in racing history and one of the finest horses to ever step on an American racetrack, was foaled at Claiborne Farm in 1957. He was bred by Mrs. Alluire duPont of Woodstock Farm in Maryland, and raced in the name of her Bohemia Stable. His sire was Your Host, a stakes winner of $384,795 and grandson of Hyperion, who stood at Claiborne Farm as the property of a syndicate. Winner of the Santa Anita Derby, Your Host had broken a shoulder as a four-year-old. Lloyd's of London had prevented his destruction by refusing to pay the insurance settlement without taking possession of the horse, and after precedent setting surgery they syndicated the stallion. Kelso's dam, named Broodmare of the Year in 1965, was a daughter of 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet and the Man o' War mare Maidoduntreath.
The brown son of Your Host and Maid of Flight became the most outstanding distance horse in modern racing history and was named Horse of the Year for five consecutive years between 1960 through 1964. He won thirty-nine races and earned almost two million dollars. Even more impressively, he earned the praise of the great jockey Eddie Arcaro, winner of two Triple Crowns, five runnings of the Kentucky Derby, six renewals of the Preakness Stakes, and six editions of the Belmont Stakes, who said he had "never ridden a better horse."
Mrs. duPont had been hoping for a filly by Your Host, so she could name her in honor of Mrs. Kelso Everett, a friend whom she considered to be an outstanding hostess. When Maid of Flight produced a colt, she went ahead and used the name.
At the age of two, Kelso was conditioned by Dr. John Lee, who gelded him in hopes that the horse might grow more. Kelso broke his maiden the first time out, winning a maiden special weight at Atlantic City on September 4, 1959. He then ran second in a pair of allowance races and was done for the year.
The following season, the responsibility of Kelso's training was handed over to Carl Hanford. The gelding began the season late, but on the right note, winning a pair of purse races, the first by ten lengths at Monmouth, and the second by twelve at Aqueduct, turning in the impressive time of 1:34 1/5. The third time out, Kelso made his stakes debut, finishing eighth to champion T.V. Lark, who carried the silks of the historic Hamburg Place, in the Arlington Classic. It was the gelding's only loss that season, however.
His first added money victory came in the Choice Stakes, which he won by seven lengths, and Kelso then scored in the Jerome Handicap the first time he was paired with jockey Eddie Arcaro. In winning the Discovery Handicap Kelso conceded eight pounds to runner up Careless John. He coped with a distance of a mile and five eighths in the Lawrence Realization, tying Man o' War's track record and beating Tompion by four and a half lengths. Kelso finished off the season with a six length romp in the mile and a quarter Hawthorne Gold Cup and an impressive three and a half length score in the two mile long Jockey Club Gold Cup, which he won on a sloppy track. Despite the fact that the gelding's three-year-old debut had been delayed until after the classics, Kelso earned the Three Year Old Championship and his first Horse of the Year title with his brilliant six race winning streak that fall.
Kelso at four, once again with Eddie Arcaro in the irons, won seven of his nine starts and earned $425,565. After easily winning his season debut, Kelso scored an impressive win in the Metropolitan Handicap, a victory that Carl Hanford considered to be among his best. Under top weight of 130 pounds, Kelso appeared beaten at the head of the stretch, but bravely overcame traffic problems to catch the lightly weighted All Hands and win by a neck. He successfully carried the heavy impost of 130 pounds again in winning the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, and then won by five lengths under 133 pounds in the Suburban Handicap. The Brooklyn Handicap was his next start, and under the assignment of 136 pounds Kelso answered the challenge and won not only the race, but the Handicap division's Triple Crown.
After traffic problems and a fourth place finish in the Washington Park Handicap, Kelso came back to win the Woodward Stakes by eight lengths and his second Jockey Club Gold Cup by five. In his first start on the turf, however, Kelso ran second by a half length to T.V. Lark in the Washington, D.C., International, which began to make racing fans believe he could not win on grass, even though both T.V. Lark and Kelso had broken the track record in the race, and the third place horse had been twelve lengths back.
Kelso was once again named Horse of the Year, and also earned the handicap division championship, while T.V. Lark was given the honor of Champion Grass Horse.
After suffering from a virus, Kelso began his five-year-old year with a sixth place finish behind 1961 Kentucky Derby winner Carry Back in the Metropolitan Handicap, under the high weight of 133 pounds and jockey Bill Shoemaker. He then easily won a mile purse, but was once again beaten with Shoemaker in the saddle, finishing second to the Allen Jerkens trained colt Beau Purple in the Suburban Handicap. Another second place finish in the Monmouth Handicap, in which he escaped a traffic jam to beat Peau Purple but failed to catch Carry Back, brought about another jockey change, and Milo Valenzuela rode the horse the rest of the season.
Kelso won a purse race on the grass at Saratoga, then finished fourth in another purse. He finally won his first stakes event of the season in the mile and a quarter Stymie Handicap that September, beginning a desperate fall bid for Horse of the Year honors that seemed sure to go to the three-year-old star Carry Back, or perhaps Suburban and Brooklyn Handicap winner Beau Purple.
Kelso had other ideas, and scored by four and a half lengths in the Woodward Stakes, then broke Nashua's record in winning his third Jockey Club Gold Cup by ten lengths; he had put himself back in the running for championship honors. Kelso tried the turf again in the Man o' War Stakes, but was beaten by Beau Purple, with Carry Back out of the money. When the three met again, in the Washington, D.C., International, it seemed certain that Horse of the Year honors would go to the winner.
Racing strategy appeared to be what would win the International. Beau Purple was a front runner, and would try to steal the race early, while Carry Back was a powerful come-from-behind horse. If Kelso stayed back, Beau Purple would be alone to set the pace, but if he sprinted with him, he could be lacking a finishing kick to hold off Carry Back's drive. Carl Hanford instructed Valenzuela to go after Beau and wear him out, knowing that Kelso could outstay the speed horse and hoping that he could still hold off the strong closing Derby winner. Beau Purple and Kelso dueled for the first mile, and Beau Purple quit on the far turn. Coming into the stretch, Kelso was in the lead, and Carry Back made his move. The two fought bravely for a furlong before Carry Back began to fade, but Kelso, too, was tired, and was unable to hold off a challenge from Match II, who successfully brought back the International aspect of the race by winning for France. Kelso held on gamely for second, beating both Carry Back, who was third, and Beau Purple, who finished a distant eleventh. Kelso won his final race that season, scoring in the Governor's Plate Stakes at Garden Stakes, and was named Horse of the Year for the third time.
1963 began with a fourth place finish in the Palm Beach Handicap, but Kelso wouldn't have to wait until September again for a stakes victory. He won the next time out, taking the Seminole Handicap. After a second place finish under 131 pounds in the Widener Handicap, Kelso began an impressive winning streak. He took the Gulfstream Park Handicap under the heavy impost of 130 pounds, and then carried 131 to win the J.B. Campbell Handicap. Returning to New York, he took the Nassau County under 132, then won his second Suburban Handicap, carrying 133 pounds. His second Whitney Stakes victory followed, and he carried 134 pounds to win the Aqueduct Stakes by five and a half lengths over Crimson Satan.
Each time Kelso ran, his fans packed the grandstand, waving banners that proclaimed their feelings for the champion. Winning the Woodward Stakes had become an annual tradition for Kelso, and he was successful in winning his third edition of that race and beating Never Bend by three and a half lengths before scoring in his fourth Jockey Club Gold Cup, this time by a more conservative four lengths.
Then came the final race of the season. Kelso once again went to the post in the Washington, D.C., International, only to once again finish second. He was beaten only half a length by Mongo in the second fastest International in history. Kelso's losses in the Washington, D.C., International had become almost as routine as his triumphs in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Woodward Stakes, however, and came as no surprise to journalists who once again wrote that Kelso could not win on grass. (They ignored the fact that he could, however, run second to top horses in spectacular times). Kelso was once again Horse of the Year.
King Kelly, as he was called by his adoring fans, returned to the races again at the age of seven, and after running out of the money in the Los Angeles Handicap and the Californian Stakes, carrying 136 pounds to victory in a purse race, running second in the Suburban Handicap under 131 pounds, again running second to Mongo in the Monmouth Handicap under 130, and finishing fifth in the Brooklyn Handicap under 130 pounds, it began to appear that his winning days were over. He conquered the turf in a purse race, and then won the Aqueduct Stakes from Brooklyn Handicap Gun Bow. He ran second to Gun Bow in the Woodward, losing a photo finish that was almost called a dead heat, then won his fifth Jockey Club Gold Cup by five and a half lengths, beating Roman Brother and Quadrangle.
Among the great gelding's most notable triumphs are his winning efforts in five runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup over the distance of two miles, as well as wins in three editions of the Woodward Stakes, and a triumph in the Brooklyn Handicap which completed a Handicap Triple Crown. But his finest performance probably came with his final start of 1964, in the Washington, D.C. International. Kelso met the outstanding turf horse Gun Bow at Laurel, once more attempting to disprove the popular theory that Kelso could not win on the grass.
For three years in a row, Kelso had run second in the Washington International at Maryland's Laurel Park. In 1964, the seven-year-old gelding went to Laurel to give the famous race one more try, and met his younger rival Gun Bow, who had beaten him twice, as well as an excellent field of internationally known horses, in one of the toughest challenges of his long career. Gun Bow, with Walter Blum in the saddle, took the early lead. Milo Valenzuela and Kelso raced three lengths behind, with the rest of the field strung out farther back. Kelso stuck his nose ahead of Gun Bow's in time to claim the 1:34.4 mile mark as his own, and with three furlongs to run, Kelso was in front by a neck. Responding to Blum's whip, Gun Bow drifted out and bumped Kelso, but the older horse held on to his short lead as they raced into the stretch. The horses hit the mile and a quarter in two minutes flat, and Gun Bow was through. Kelso, eased up at the wire, won by 4 1/2 lengths, proving once and for all that he could win on the turf and breaking the world record in the process, with a time of 2:23 4/5. Tom Nickalls, a writer for the British magazine Sporting Life, offered the praise:
"Kelso must indeed be the greatest horse in the world today... It was the finest piece of racing I have ever seen."
At the age of eight, Kelso raced six times, with his three victories including the Diamond State Handicap, the Whitney Stakes, and the Stymie Handicap. He also finished third in the Brooklyn Handicap under 132 pounds. In winning the Stymie Handicap, Kelso was hit in the eye by some flying dirt, and the infection canceled the rest of his season. When he came back at the age of nine, he ran fourth in a sprint race at Hialeah, and a hairline fracture was discovered on his medial proximal sesamoid, ending his long career. The March 19, 1966 issue of The Blood-Horse carried the retirement announcement:
"Kelso demonstrated the durability of class. No horse in our time was so good, so long. His was mature greatness."
Throughout Kelso's long career, he was accompanied by his lifetime groom, Lawrence Fitzpatrick, his personal exercise rider Dick Jenkins, and his canine companion Charlie Potatoes. Mrs. duPont frequently allowed her horse to indulge in his favorite treat, feeding him chocolate sundaes both to celebrate his victories and to lift his spirits in defeat. Kelso's triumphs on the track attracted a large following of loyal fans. He received tons of mail, for which he was given his own mailbox at Woodstock Farm in Maryland. The famous horse even had his own fan club, a group founded by eleven year old Heather Noble of Alexandria, Virginia, who called themselves the Kelsolanders and nicknamed him King Kelly. His loyal supporters were present every time he ran, often waving banners that proclaimed their love for their hero, and when Kelso finally won the International, Heather Noble attended the race as Mrs. duPont's personal guest.
After Kelso's retirement from racing, Mrs. Allaire duPont frequently took him foxhunting with the Vicmead Hunt in Delaware and the Andrew's Bridge Hunt in Pennsylvania, and he also spent time making public appearances. Kelso passed away in 1983, shortly after making a final appearance at Belmont Park in the company of Forego and John Henry, and he is buried at Mrs. Allaire duPont's farm in Maryland.
|Boudoir II||Mahmoud||Blenheim II|
|La Soupe II|
|Maid of Flight||Count Fleet||Reigh Count||Sunreigh|
|Maidoduntreath||Man o' War||Fair Play|
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