homepage logo

Kelso: Named Horse of the Year five times

By Staff | Aug 11, 2017

If the grand Kelso hadn’t have displayed such a nasty disposition as a yearling and even just before he began a legendary race career, he wouldn’t have set the many records he did.

As an unruly and even dangerous youngster, Kelso puzzled his trainers and owner. When he continued on for months as a misbehaving brat they had him gelded. Did he calm down and become used to being shown what his behavior should be like? No, he didn’t.

But because he couldn’t be a breeding stallion and was sound and accident-free, he stayed on the race track until age 9 when a leg injury finally sent him into retirement.

His on-track doings are well chronicled.

And so are his laundry list of honors.

Horse of the Year at age 3.

Horse of the Year at age 4.

Horse of the Year at age 5.

Horse of the Year at age 6.

Horse of the Year at age 7.

Born in 1957 at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, Kelso eventually raced for Bohemia Farm and trainer Carl Hanford.

He raced from 1957 until being forced into retirement in 1966.

Even though he was very small and bony – as well as being unruly and bite-happy – as a youngster, he was the grandson of Triple Crown champion Count Fleet. His bloodlines were too impressive to just call him a bad actor and put him away in a corner of an outdoor paddock.

Racing only three times as a 2-year-old, Kelso didn’t return to the track at age 3 until all the Triple Crown events had been run.

Hanford was training him by then.

Still on the small side, Hanford was pleased with his athleticism, balance, will to win and sound health.

Once he was competing at age 3, he was winning stakes races every three or four weeks. Despite the late start, he won enough to be elected Horse of the Year.

When he was four there came a number of handicap races where he spotted rivals weight, at times carrying 129 pounds to rivals’ 110 pounds. He won 7 of 9 starts at age 4, and another Horse of the Year honor.

When he was 5, 6 and 7, he had imposts as heavy as 136 pounds and still he won, being named Horse of the Year in all three of those racing seasons.

Eventually, he competed for eight seasons.

The records were totaled. He had raced 63 times, winning 39 trips, finishing second on 12 occasions and third on two other afternoons.

Long after Kelso was enshrined in the Race Museum and Hall of Fame his trainer Hanford got his place in the esteemed institution. Hanford’s induction speech included, “There is only one reason I am being brought to this place – and that’s Kelso.”

One author said of “Kelly,” as he was nicknamed: “Once upon a time there was a horse like Kelso. But only once.”

He lived to be 26 and the day before he died was paraded before a crowded grandstand at Belmont Park along with the champion, Forego.

His career winnings of just shy of $2 million were the highest figure when he left racing.

The mighty Kelso raced in 14 different states and defeated 13 of the horses that are in the Hall of Fame.

What if he had been even-tempered and a docile student of Hanford and others? He certainly would not have raced until age 9.