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Jay Hovdey: Golden anniversary of Kelso’s golden run
It’s always the 50th anniversary of something, and 2013 has offered especially ripe pickings. There’s just been the marking of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Dream” speech of Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In a couple of months, the heartache will commence over the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. I’m inclined to leaven the mood with tales of the 1963 World Series, in which the Dodgers swept the Yankees in four wonderful games, but that never seems to cheer up my friends from New York.
The 1963 world of Thoroughbred racing pretty much belonged to Kelso, Kelso, and Kelso, from his Feb. 9 victory in the Seminole Handicap at Hialeah, over Ridan and Jaipur, to his unprecedented third straight victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Aqueduct on Oct. 19 (two weeks to the day after I watched Don Drysdale shut out Jim Bouton and the Yanks 1-0 at Chavez Ravine . . . but I digress).
There were other divisions cooking in 1963. It’s just that Kelso tended to suck all the air out of the room. Lamb Chop, Bold Ruler’s first champion, won the Santa Susana, the CCA Oaks, the Gazelle, the Spinster, and the Firenze. Cicada, who raced 17 times at 3 in 1962, tapered off to eight quality starts to be champion again in ’63. Kentucky Derby, Blue Grass, and Belmont winner Chateaugay was deemed best of an entertaining bunch of 3-year-old colts that included the widely traveled Candy Spots and the temperamental Never Bend.
As for the 2-year-olds of 1963, Hurry to Market, winner of the gaudy Garden State Stakes, was voted division champion. But it was left to three others to make more lasting impressions.
Roman Brother, a gelding, won the Champagne Stakes like a horse with a bright future. That future finally came true in 1965 when he won the Manhattan, the Woodward, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup to be voted Horse of the Year, in some polls, as the Kelso era finally came to an end.
Raise a Native was Roman Brother’s stablemate in the Burley Parke wing of Lou and Patrice Wolfson’s Harbor View Farm. He won all four of his races between February and July with blinding speed, but never ran again. At stud, Raise a Native sired Majestic Prince, Mr. Prospector, and Alydar, as well as Exclusive Native, the sire of Affirmed and Genuine Risk.
Then there was Northern Dancer, the colt from Canada, who made a name for himself at Fort Erie, Woodbine, and Greenwood before invading New York to take the one-mile Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in late November 1963 (believe it or not, it’s on YouTube). With the Champagne, the Garden State, and Quadrangle’s Pimlico Futurity already in the books, Northern Dancer’s Remsen was pretty much ignored, or at least it was until he won the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and went on to become the greatest North American stallion of the 20th century.
Kelso was 6 in 1963 and already had been Horse of the Year in 1960, 1961, and 1962. At one point during the season, he won eight straight major events, six of them under 130 pounds or more. None of those wins was more impressive than the 1 1/8-mile Aqueduct Stakes, run on Labor Day, Sept. 2, 1963.
The Aqueduct had been a handicap for many years, but in 1962 it was converted to a race with weights based on allowances. With Kelso roaming the land, certain defenses had to be built into the formula, and they were none too subtle. Get a load of the conditions for 1963:
“3-year-olds, 121 lbs.; older, 126 lbs. Winners of two races of $70,000 at a mile and a furlong or over since Oct. 1, 1962, or four races of $35,000 at a mile or over in 1963, 3 lbs. extra; three races of $70,000 at a mile or over in 1963, 5 lbs. extra; four races of $35,000 at a mile and a quarter or over since Oct. 1, 1962, 8 lbs. extra.”
Today’s racing secretaries couldn’t even punctuate conditions like that, let alone have a reason to write them. Kelso carried the full load, 134, and beat a field that included the Strub Stakes and Washington Park Handicap winner Crimson Satan, 1962 Kentucky Derby winner Decidedly, and 1963 Preakness winner Candy Spots. Beat them for fun, too, by 5 1/2 lengths in front of a holiday crowd of 71,876.
Kelso added easy wins in the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup, then wrapped up his fourth Horse of the Year title with a noble try in the Washington, D.C., International, when he missed by just half a length to two-time United Nations Handicap winner Mongo.
Fifty years later, the two most accomplished Thoroughbreds in America are geldings, just like Kelso. And while there is no sense in comparing the exploits of Game On Dude and Wise Dan to those of the five-time Horse of the Year, it is comforting to know that the torch is still being passed.
Huge week for juveniles
The next noteworthy 2-year-old has yet to reveal himself or herself this summer, but the ensuing four racing days could encourage speculation.
First up Saturday is the Del Mar Debutante, followed at Saratoga on Sunday by the Spinaway and Monday by the Hopeful. Finally, next Wednesday, the Del Mar Futurity wraps up action by the Pacific. All four races are Grade 1, at seven furlongs.
The Debutante has attracted a field of eight fillies, including three from the Bob Baffert barn (Awesome Baby, Fascinating, Secret Compass) and two from owner Raul Reddam (Sorrento Stakes winner Concave and Cinderella Stakes winner Sprouts). Peter Miller will tackle them all with Richard Pell’s New York-bred Southern Sunshine, a daughter of High Cotton who just missed winning a maiden event Aug. 10.
“I think it’s a wide-open race,” said Miller, whose victory in the 2007 Debutante with Set Play was his first major score. “There’s plenty of pace, so we’re going to try and sit back off it a little. We’ve got the post  and the rider [Garrett Gomez], and she’s doing super. What’s not to like?”
If only it were that simple.
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That was a horse.Felt like he ran every few weeksand won a lot of them.Try and run one of these so called champs 2 miles today.This was the good old days of racing.50,000 at the BIG A was no big deal.Now they get 50,000 for the meet.No OTB .Online betting only the track or the bookie.I would turn back the clock in a heart beat.
Kelso's Metropolitan Handicap victory- when he nailed All Hands(M.Ycaza),in front of 55,000 plus,at a jump from the finish line- was a singular great moment,in a singular great career.What a horse!!....Thanks Jay.
Buckpasser, world record holder at a mile, and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner at 2 miles. Also, "The Chicken Flamingo". And the miracle 1967 Suburban ( which I can't find anywhere on video)
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Jay, those '63 Dodgers had a pitching staff that put fear in batters. I recall a story that Johnny Roseboro told about Mickey Mantle. After flailing away in futility at one of Sandy's incredible curve balls, he turned around and asked Roseboro how does anybody hit his stuff? I don't remember his answer, but I think he's still laughing.
I saw Kelso in many of his races. My favorite was always the Aqueduct Handicap where he beat Gun Bow. I still think he was the greatest horse I ever saw, and I saw pretty much every one from Native Dancer on. Few horses beat the best not only of his generation but several generations as well. He could win from from 6 furlongs to two miles, on turf and on dirt and carry weight as well. I remember when he led the post parade with Forego, just before he died. While definitely older, I think he was happy to be back on the track. I always felt he never left it.
Only Easy Goer, Kelso and Slew O' Gold have ever even won the Whitney, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same year, though Easy Goer was only a 3 year old, and the other 2 were older horses.
For the shear durability and longevity at the top of his game and being able to beat the best in training, there was only one Kelso, who of course never ran in a triple crown race. He is sorely missed today, in the era of sprinters who can't even make it to racing fore more than three years before breaking down. If you study the times for track records at a 1 1/4 miles or more from that time even up to the 1970s, no horse today can approach those times consistently. The so-called top horses today run the last quarter in a mile and a quarter race in harness racing time, like 26 or 27 seconds.
You missed the fiftieth anny of all the years the Bronx bombers throttled dem bums. Now you have a Yankee managing after Torre. Blue pinstripers.