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Was the Greatest Racehorse a Gelding
 By mosquito   •   8th Feb 2010   •   8,244 views   •   10 comments
Kelso HorseSince we recently had a story about Man O’War, I thought this month’s biography should take at look at what may have been his greatest descendant – his great grandson Kelso. Born in 1957, Kelso didn’t have the looks of his great grandfather, but he sure had his speed.

Nobody ever said Kelso was destined to be fast and famous. Kelso’s trouble started before he was even born. His sire, Your Host, was a pretty good racehorse, but he was lucky to be alive. In the last race of his career, he broke down badly. His owner tried to save him, but after treatments Your Host still had one shorter leg, and was going to need lots of help for the rest of his life. His owner wanted to put him down, but his Californian fans protested, going straight to Your Host’s insurance company, and Your Host was saved. The insurance company actually paid Your Host’s owner, and bought the horse just to save him, and he went off to stud in Kentucky.

Even though Kelso was born at the prestigious Claiborne Stud in Kentucky, he was his mother’s first foal, and frankly he was a disappointment. He was scrawny, some even said he was a runt, and worst of all he was real problem to handle. His owners had him gelded in the hope that he would behave himself, but it didn’t make any difference – in fact, he got even more ornery! He was so grumpy and intractable his owners even hired a chaplain just for Kelso in the hope God could talk some sense into him!

Kelso won a minor race at two, but at three he didn’t see the racecourse until his triple crown races were over. If he wasn’t pretty, at least his attitude meant he had determination. He hated to have another horse in front, and that meant he needed a strong jockey. That’s why he ended up with some of the best riders: the likes of Willie Shoemaker and Eddie Arcaro. By the end of his three year old year, he’d won 8 of 9 starts, equaled Man O’War’s record in one race and despite missing all three triple crown races earned the Horse of the Year Eclipse award!

Kelso was a dirt specialist, but he also won on grass. He was a handicapper, but he won carrying almost 140 pounds. He won stakes races. He beat older horses, then he beat younger horses. When his behavior didn’t get the best of him – he knocked himself out messing around in the starting stalls before the Brooklyn Handicap, but he still started even though he was so dizzy he didn’t run well – he could beat the best in the world. He won the Washington International, in a performance that was one of the greatest horse races ever, when Kelso and Gun Bow dueled it out in the straight, leaving the foreign horses far behind. When Gun Bow’s rider was asked if he was surprised when it looked like he had the race won at the last turn but the Kelso just rode up and passed him, he said, ‘No, that was about when I was expecting him to show up’.

But that was nothing – he went on to win Horse of the Year for the next four years – making him the only five time Horse of the Year winner ever. He won the Jockey Club Gold Cup 5 times in a row, and the Woodward 3 times. He won 39 of 63 starts, still holds the 2 mile record, and raced for 8 years. This may be why some of racing’s greats are geldings – they don’t need to hurry off to the stud farm. His career only ended because of a hairline fracture of his sesamoid bone, but that didn’t stop him either – during his retirement he made regular visits to the show ring as a hunter/jumper and went out on weekends as a foxhunter! His racing determination paid off – Kelso was quickly respected for his fearless jumping of big fences in the ring and the field.

Kelso won his last six races, and finished up with nearly 2 million dollars in winnings – amazing for the 1960’s, and a record that lasted for 13 years! When Blood Horse ranked the top 100 horses of the twentieth century, Kelso raked 4th – Man O War was 1st!

But Kelso wasn’t just a winner, he was a traveler. He raced on fourteen tracks in six states, and picked up a following of fans unlike any other horse. But keeping Kelso happy was hard work. His owners bought him lots of dogs, so he was one racehorse that had pets. He also wouldn’t travel without his best friend, a racehorse named Sea Spirit, known as Pete, who was Kelso’s companion for fifteen years.

When Kelso retired, he continued to host his fans, and became known as the racehorse with the most fan mail! He even had his own mailbox. The photo below of Kelso with the US flag is the postcard Kelso sent back to everyone who wrote him a letter. Kelso and another racing great, Forego, made a special appearance at Belmont Park in 1983. Kelso got a standing ovation from the crowd of over 32000 people. Sadly, after Kelso and Pete made the journey back to Maryland, Kelso got a bad case of colic and died suddenly.

I was fortunate enough myself to meet Kelso at one of his birthday parties at Woodstock Farm in Maryland, before he passed away at the age of 26. Meeting a great horse like Kelso was an experience I’ll never forget!

Want to know more? There are a few books about Kelso:
• Kelso: The Horse of Gold by Linda Kennedy (2007)
• Kelso : Thoroughbred Legends by Steve Haskin (2003)
Was the Greatest Racehorse a Gelding
Was the Greatest Racehorse a Gelding
Was the Greatest Racehorse a Gelding
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