Named Horse of the Year for five consecutive years from 1960 through 1964, Kelso was one of the most accomplished and unique thoroughbreds in the history of American racing.
Named Horse of the Year for five consecutive years from 1960 through 1964, Kelso was one of the most accomplished and unique thoroughbreds in the History of American racing.
Bred by Mrs. Richard C. du Pont and foaled at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, Kelso was a son of Your Host out of the Count Fleet mare Maid of Flight. Gelded before his first start, Kelso made his career debut with a victory at Atlantic City Race Course on Sept. 4, 1959. Raced in the name of du Pont’s Bohemia Stable, Kelso was initially trained by Dr. John Lee. After winning his debut, Kelso finished second in his other two starts as a juvenile and did not make his 3-year-old debut until after the Triple Crown races.
With new trainer Carl Hanford, Kelso began his 3-year-old season on June 22, 1960, with a victory at Monmouth Park. He followed with wins in the Choice Stakes, Jerome Handicap, Discovery Handicap, Lawrence Realization, Hawthorne Gold Cup, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, prompting jockey Eddie Arcaro to declare Kelso as “the best horse in America today. He can beat anything at any distance.”
In the Lawrence Realization, Kelso defeated Tompion in 2:40⅘, equaling Man o’ War’s record for 1⅝ miles. With eight wins in nine starts, Kelso was named Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male. A remarkable run was just beginning.
In 1961, Kelso won seven of nine starts, including the Metropolitan Handicap, Whitney Stakes (via disqualification), Suburban Handicap, Brooklyn Handicap (carrying 136 pounds), Woodward Stakes, and a second consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was named Horse of the Year once again and Champion Older Male.
As a 5-year-old in 1962, Kelso won half of his 12 starts, including a 10-length victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. On Dec. 1, 1962, before a crowd of 29,661 at Garden State Park, Kelso won the inaugural running of the Governor’s Plate by five lengths in 2:30⅕, a track record for 1½ miles under new regular rider Ismael Valenzuela. The victory increased Kelso’s lifetime earnings to more than $1 million, a record at the time, and secured his second straight title as Champion Older Male and third consecutive Horse of the Year award.
At age 6, Kelso continued to thrive at the top level of the sport, posting a record of 9-2-0 from 12 starts and earning a career-best $569,762. His wins included the Woodward Stakes, Whitney Stakes, Suburban Handicap, Seminole Handicap, Nassau County Handicap, John B. Campbell Handicap, and Aqueduct Stakes. For the fourth consecutive year, Kelso won the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Before a crowd of 50,131 at Aqueduct, Kelso won the two-mile test for his eighth consecutive win of the campaign. He was again voted Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year.
In 1964, as a 7-year-old, Kelso authored his unprecedented fifth consecutive Horse of the Year campaign and was named Champion Older Male for the fourth year in a row. He delivered two of his most memorable performances during the year, winning his fifth straight Jockey Club Gold Cup (setting an American record of 3:19⅕ for two miles) and taking the Washington, D.C., International in 2:23⅘, a new world record for 1½ miles on grass.
Racing as an 8-year-old, Kelso finally experienced the twilight of his career in 1965. He made only six starts, but at times still showed his brilliance. His wins included a third edition of the Whitney Stakes and a second Stymie Handicap. Kelso made one start as a 9-year-old, finishing fourth in an allowance at Hialeah. He then suffered a hairline fracture on the inside sesamoid of his right front foot while training for the Donn Handicap and was retired.
With a career record of 39-12-2 from 63 starts and earnings of $1,977,896, Kelso had secured his place in history. The five-time Horse of the Year and five-time divisional champion, set or equaled eight track records and set three American records. Upon his retirement, The BloodHorse remarked, “Kelso demonstrated the durability of class. No horse in our time was so good, so long. His was mature greatness.”
Kelso spent his retirement at Mrs. du Pont’s Woodstock Farm in Maryland. He died on Oct. 16, 1983, at the age of 26.
Horse of the Year — 1960
Champion 3-Year-Old Male — 1960
Horse of the Year — 1961
Champion Older Male — 1961
Horse of the Year — 1962
Champion Older Male — 1962
Horse of the Year — 1963
Champion Older Male —1963
Horse of the Year — 1964
Champion Older Male —1964