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Ask most contemporary racing fans who they think is the greatest Thoroughbred of all time, and the answers will likely include Secretariat and Man O'War, champions from two different eras. However, not to diminish the accomplishments of these two great chestnuts, in her latest book, author Linda Kennedy puts in her vote for the small, deerlike gelding who graced the American Turf in the 1960's. Despite never running in a Triple Crown race, Kelso. a descendent of Man O'War and Hyperion, ruled the sport for five unprecedented years. Kennedy saw Kelso win the 1963 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga and it was this meeting and a life-long love for this horse that inspired her to write this latest biography.
Kelso is best known as the only five-time winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which at the time was contested at a grueling 2 miles, and with those wins, clinched Horse of the Year honors from 1960 to 1964. He is the only horse to have accomplished this, and only Forego's three-year reign as Horse of the Year in the mid-1970's has come close. Kelso may be remembered as the master of the 2-mile dirt race from his Gold Cup accomplishments, but he may well be the most versatile and consistent Thoroughbred ever. He won on dirt and turf, sprints and routes, and broke records at tracks all over the country from ages 3 to 8. He won 13 races carrying more than 130 pounds, and in those races he conceded an average of 17 pounds to the second highweight in the race. He often raced while injured and still would outclass the competition. What Kelso accomplished cannot be equaled in the modern era of racing, where 2-mile races and 130-pound imposts are rarities. It is highly unlikely we will ever see another five-time Horse of the Year, a feat which would probably require winning the Breeders' Cup Classic in each of those years.
But to Kennedy, Kelso was more than what the record book indicates. Because of the focus of the racing world on the classics, it took awhile for the public and the media to take notice of Allaire du Pont's homebred gelding, who raced in the colors of du Pont's Bohemia Stable and was trained by Carl Hanford. But this didn't matter to the gelding, who just did what he did best, which was win. Kennedy uses the Triple Crown and historical events as background points-of-reference to demonstrate just how long "Kelly"'s influence on the sport was. Kelso's reign included the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, giving America an equine inspiration like Seabiscuit during the Depression and Secretariat during Watergate. Linda Kennedy would briefly touch on each of the Triple Crown years, because invariably, the winners of those races would try to take on Kelso only to go down in defeat. Interestingly, Kelso took on Soviet Union-owned and trained horses in his Washington D.C. Internationals, during the height of the Cold War.
Kennedy did extensive, in-depth research on her equine hero, research that any writer can do to piece together a book of this type. However, it is Kennedy's personal experience with "Kelly" that adds the human element to the story. As a horse-crazy 15-year-old, she went to Saratoga with her mother for the track's centennial celebration and the 1963 Whitney Handicap. Kennedy went to the paddock, which in those days was open to the public, and was close enough to be brushed by Kelso as he circled his tree before being saddled, surrounded by hundreds of adoring fans. Of course Kelly did not disappoint, "devouring the leaders with one lethal burst" of speed to an easy 2 1/2 length win, which Kennedy watched from the rail close to the finish line. An omission this reviewer could not avoid was a lack of any mention of wagering on horse races; most biographies of racehorses will at least mention how short a price the subject horse went off at during some of the races, or if the subject horse was not favored by the public and had to pull off the upset.
A number of black and white photographs are included within the main text and a useful, informative appendix lists his many stakes victories, records set, margins of victory, race distances, and weight carried, quickly summarizing for the reader just how dominant Kelso was. Clearly this is a most fitting tribute to one of Thoroughbred racing's all time greats, written by one of his biggest supporters. Kelso is a horse who is without equal in history, and this book will ensure he is never forgotten as racing continues its downward trend toward shorter races, lighter weights, and short racing careers.
Kelso: The Horse of Gold has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $18.96.
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