The word "great" is often used indiscriminately in sport, frequently as nothing more than a synonym for "good.'" It is a pleasure, therefore, to be able to apply the word correctly and in its fullest meaning to the 6-year-old racehorse leaning out of his Maryland stall at right. He has two tufts of gray hair on the right side of his head, a heart overflowing with courage and a name that might have bubbled right out of the new-products department at Procter & Gamble—Kelso.
Kelso, the running-and-winning property of Maryland Sportswoman Mrs. Richard C. duPont, is, however, even more than just a great racehorse. As his country's four-time Horse of the Year (no other has been so honored more than twice), Kelso belongs at the very top of the list, on the same pedestal as Man o' War himself. This covers a lot of territory and a lot of champion performers, including two other great geldings of different eras, Exterminator and Armed. It puts Kelso ahead of such oldtimers as Sysonby and Colin and Equipoise, ahead of Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault and Citation and ahead of such near-contemporaries as Tom Fool, Native Dancer, Swaps, Nashua and Round Table.
All of these horses achieved moments of true magnificence, some during one season, some over two and even three seasons. But Kelso deserves to be ranked ahead of them simply because he has now beaten the best of four successive crops of American horses. Since 1960 the cream of these four crops, totaling roughly 50,000 horses, has taken a whack at this gifted son of Your Host, and now at the end of another campaign it is the same old story: Kelso on top, the rest nowhere.
Kelso has earned his rank the hard way. He has outrun sprinters at their game and outdistanced distance horses in the classic game. He has done it carrying top weights (136 pounds in the 1961 Brooklyn Handicap), and in many of his handicap victories he has given away more than 20 pounds to his rivals. At weight for age, over a mile and a half or beyond on a dirt track, he probably is the best horse that has ever lived.
Recently, while parading to the post for the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup (which he then went on to win for the fourth straight time), Kelso's ears pricked up to the roar of applause from the vast depths of Aqueduct. New York bettors are not in the habit of cheering l-to-9 shots before the finish line is reached, but Kelso has been going off at such short odds and receiving such tribute for a long time. Watching and listening to all this, Mrs. duPont tried to explain what greatness in a horse really means. An attractive, 50ish widow with a slow, deliberate way of expressing herself, Allaire duPont is feverishly intense when she watches Kelso run. With Trainer Carl Hanford at her side, she never takes her eyes off her horse and her gray and canary-yellow colors. "Kelso," she said quietly, "has proved he can carry weight and run in track record time. He has taken on every challenger and taken them all in his stride. He is wonderfully consistent. He just goes on and on."
It is consistency that has enabled Kelso to become the second richest horse in history. He has earned $1,556,702 in purses for winning 31 of his 44 races and for being second on eight other occasions. This puts him, momentarily, only $193,167 behind Round Table's alltime record of $1,749,869. There is hardly a doubt that long before the end of 1964 Kelso will leave the company of Round Table and racing's three other millionaires ( Nashua, Carry Back and Citation) and start his own $2 million club. In fact, if there are any niggling doubts at all about Kelso's ability on a racetrack, they should be resolved once and for all this Monday on the turf course at Laurel. There, for the third time, he will be attempting to win the Washington, D.C. International—a mile and a half against some of the world's best grass runners, including America's Mongo.
On his overall record Kelso will be the favorite at Laurel. On his grass record he probably should not be. For, while he has won 30 of 39 races on the dirt, he has won only one of his five starts on the turf. Nevertheless, both Allaire duPont and Carl Hanford firmly believe that Kelso is actually just as good on grass and that in this 12th International he will prove it. They have sound reasons. Though neither has ever tried to alibi a Kelso defeat on any surface, it is true that on most occasions when he lost he appeared to have an excuse. Twice he was shipped to Chicago and lost after failing to break well. Once, when beaten by Carry Back in the Monmouth Park Handicap, he was giving away six pounds, and Carry Back had to set a track record to win. Another time, in this year's Widener Handicap at Hialeah, Jockey Milo Valenzuela took full blame for holding Kelso back and letting Beau Purple loose for a front-running victory.
On the turf, too, there have been extenuating circumstances. After the 1961 International, when Kelso was beaten three-quarters of a length by T. V. Lark, it was discovered that he had an ailing foreleg. That he finished 12 lengths in front of the third horse is a tribute to his courage. In the International a year ago Kelso ran one of the best races of his life and still lost by a length and a half to France's Match II. First, Kelso had to subdue front-running Beau Purple. Then, instead of being able to take a breather, he found himself challenged immediately by Carry Back, who was closer to the pace than he ever had been before. These two ran their hearts out to the stretch, but at that point Jockey Yves Saint-Martin and Match slipped through on the inside to beat them both. Reflecting on the race the other day, Allaire duPont noted accurately, "Without one or the other—either Beau Purple or Carry Back—in the race, we would have been O.K. But we had to put them both away, and that took too much out of Kelso. It set things up perfectly for a come-from-behind horse like Match. I still think it was one of Kelso's greatest races, and it proves to us that he can run brilliantly on the turf."
Valenzuela adds one note of caution. "Yes, I think this horse will run over any track, but only as long as he can get hold of it. He's fine in the mud but isn't at his best in the slop. On grass I think he does his best when it's real firm, not wet or soft."
No matter what the condition of the turf or the opposition at Laurel on November 11, Kelso will surely run one of his typically courageous races. And if he should lose, it will also be typical of his owner to be the first to congratulate the winner as well as to pass off her own defeat with a customary, "Isn't Kelso just wonderful anyway? He's a card, he's a bird, he's wonderful."