The Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup, for the past 70 years, have been proving grounds for a long list of Thoroughbred racing’s greatest Champions.
Some horses, though, transcend the sport’s most famous stages.
Horses like KELSO.
KELSO never ran in a Triple Crown race and his legendary career ended some 18 years before the Breeders’ Cup even began.
Yet in eight years of racing, the gallant and durable gelding accomplished more than virtually any other horse in the modern era.
He belongs on any and all lists ranking the top ten horses of the 20th Century.
He was voted Horse of the Year in five straight years (1960-’64) – a feat no one has come close to matching. He Won the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup five times. He was Victorious in the Woodward and Whitney Stakes three times apiece.
He matched or broke a track record 10 times, at distances ranging from two miles to a mile and an eighth, on dirt and turf, on dry tracks and in the slop.
When he retired in 1966, he left the racetrack as the sport’s all-time leader in earnings with $1,977,896 dollars in purse money.
And he did it without the benefit of running in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes.
Like most Triple Crown aspirants, KELSO began his career at age 2. His debut was September 4th, 1959.
The NY-bred was gelded before his first start, which was a Victory in an Atlantic City Maiden race at 6-1 odds – the highest odds of his 63-race career.
He raced twice more as a 2 year-old, finishing 2nd both times, and then did not race again until June 22, 1960 – after all three Triple Crown races were contested.
KELSO was a far different horse as a 3 year-old. He Won his 1960 debut by 10 lengths and a subsequent Allowance race at Aqueduct by 12 lengths.
He then made his Stakes debut in the rich $135,000 Arlington Classic, but was no factor in the race, finishing 8th in a field twelve.
That would prove to be the only glitch in his 3 year-old campaign as he closed the year with six straight Wins, capped by Triumphs over older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Hawthorne Gold Cup.
He was so impressive and dominant that he was voted Horse of the Year and the champion 3-year-old.
At age 4 he remained as brilliant as ever. At one point he had amassed 11 straight Wins. Among them were the Metropolitan Handicap, Brooklyn Handicap, Suburban Handicap, Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Over the course of the next three years, KELSO remained the sport’s brightest star, racking up one major Win after another, even though he often carried 130 pounds or more.
His five-time reign as Horse of the Year ended in 1965, yet even then, at the age of 8, he was still fast enough to Win the Whitney.
He finished with a record of 39 Wins from his 63 starts and was the sport’s all-time leading earner until 1979 when he was surpassed by Triple Crown Winner AFFIRMED.
KELSO was voted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1967.
In the end, there are probably a thousand words or more that can describe the greatness KELSO brought with him to the track. Yet the legendary turf scribe Joe Hirsch said it best about the grand gelding when he wrote a single sentence about him.
It read, “Once upon a time there was a horse named KELSO … but only once.”