SI Vault
Jacquin Sanders
October 27, 1969
How Mantle mocked me, Hogan ignored me and a lady racehorse owner gave me the cold shoulder
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October 27, 1969

The Kelso Bit, Or A Career Nipped

How Mantle mocked me, Hogan ignored me and a lady racehorse owner gave me the cold shoulder

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The mean little man gave me a mean little look. "So this is what they send to cover racing nowadays," he said, and walked off without answering any more of my questions.

The stable was shadowy and cool. A dozen stalls lined one side and, halfway down, a horse's head leaned out, swiveling, brightly interested in his limited little world. A stablehand walked by, and the horse lunged playfully, trying to nuzzle his shoulder. The man ducked aside but was still smiling as he passed me. "Ol Kelly," he muttered fondly, shaking his head.

"Is that Kelso?" I asked.

"That's him—the only one still up and around this time of day."

The stablehand was right. On my way to the great horse's stall, I looked into all the others and saw only lounging, oat-munching slobs. I stopped at his stall, and he stuck his head out amiably. I kept my distance, and we looked at each other for several moments. His eyes were warm and brown with a certain sadness lurking in them, as if acknowledging the random ironies of life that turn animals into entertainers and novelists into sportswriters. I felt closer to Kelso than to anyone I'd met since becoming a journalist. It was the best private interview I'd ever had. I wished he could have been a former President. I wished he could hit the inside pitch, thigh high. I stepped closer. He bit me.

It hurt, and not just psychologically. If I hadn't been wearing a jacket, my arm would have bled. But there was no time for reproaches. The mean old man was suddenly by my side, furious, accusing. "You been feeding this horse?" he demanded. "You think this is some zoo? You think this is some hippopotamus? You git outta here!"

Back at the office, I began reading up on Kelso's background and discovered a fact apparently quite well known to millions but profoundly shocking to me. Kelso was a gelding! Now I understood the sadness in those warm brown eyes. I forgave the bite.

But I didn't forgive the owner; I decided to phone her. One butler and a private secretary later a mature and cultured voice greeted me with well-concealed enthusiasm. Simultaneously, I realized the absurdity of my position, and my outrage over Kelso's misfortune began to drain away. It would not be easy to ask this highborn lady why she had gelded this proud and exceptional thoroughbred.

Nevertheless the question somehow got asked, to be followed by a silence that would have chilled an Eskimo skin diver. Then: "I fail to see how that matter could possibly be of interest to anyone," she said. "And I don't understand why you had to take my time to have me explain it."

I felt squelched. I also felt tested. Clearly this was a turning point, and I knew exactly what had to be done. Glimmering in my mind's eye were the echoes of a hundred hard-eyed interviewers whose refusal to back away from such moments had stamped them as tough and unscrupulous. I had only to drop in my polite little piece of blackmail: "I just want to hear your side of it, ma'am. Otherwise I'll have to write my own version, and you might not like it." That's what I should have said. What I really said, in a plaintive, rather squeaky voice, was, "I'm sorry. I guess I just wasn't thinking."

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