Kelso: Five Time Horse of the Year

Updated: Jun 7, 2019


Kelso in April of 1965. Photo from the Keeneland Library Morgan Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

From 1959 to 1966, a horse by the name of Kelso drew huge crowds to racetracks across the United States. Like his maternal greatgrandsire Man o’ War, Kelso did not compete in the Kentucky Derby. In fact, Kelso did not compete in a single Triple Crown race, proving that horses do not have to win any of those three classics to go down as one of the greatest American racehorses of all time.

Kelso was born on Claiborne Farm on April 4th, 1957. His sire was Your Host and he was out of the Count Fleet mare Maid of Flight. He was scrawny and his disposition was less than desirable. However, Kelso had a beautiful head, wide hips, and great length from his hip to his hock. His breeder, Allaire duPont of Bohemia Stable, named him after her dear friend Kelso Everett. His fans simply called him “King Kelly”.


Kelso was gelded before his first start in an attempt to help improve his disposition. He was then sent to trainer Dr. John Lee and made his winning debut on Sept. 4, 1959 at Atlantic City Race Course. He raced two more times as a two-year old, finishing second both times.

Because Dr. John Lee returned to his veterinary practice the next year, trainer Carl Hanford took over. Kelso was not entered into any races as a three-year old until all three Triple Crown races were completed. He won his three-year old debut at Monmouth Park Racetrack on June 22nd, 1960. Kelso swept eight of his next nine starts during his three-year old season, including a record breaking win for a three-year old for a mile at Aqueduct. It also also included wins in the Choice Stakes, the Jerome Handicap, and the Hawthorne Gold Cup. He set a new track record for nine furlongs in the Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct, equaled Man o’ War’s time of 2:40-⅘ for 1 ⅝ miles in the Lawrence Realization, and set a new American record of 3:19-⅘ for two miles in the Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses.

His three-year old season marked the first big year of a prosperous career as a racehorse. He was named both Champion Three-Year Old Male and Horse of the Year.

Kelso, Eddie Arcaro, and Carl Hanford at Belmont Park in 1961. Photo from Keeneland Library Morgan Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Kelso raced nine times at four. He took home seven wins and became only the third horse to win the Handicap Triple Crown (The Brooklyn Handicap, Metropolitan Handicap, and Suburban Handicap). He carried top-weight in all three races, further cementing his pure talent. He also won the Woodward Stakes, the Whitney Stakes, and took home a second win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was named Champion Older Horse and Horse of the Year for his 1961 season.

In 1962, Kelso ran twelve times, winning half of them. Among those wins were the Woodward Stakes and the Stymie Handicap. He set two new track records in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont (a ten length victory) and in the inaugural Governor’s Plate Stakes at Garden State. He finished second in the Man o’ War Stakes, Washington D.C. Invitational, Monmouth Handicap, and Suburban Handicap. His 1962 season landed him as leading-money earner of that time. The season also gained him another Champion Older Male title and a third-consecutive Horse of the Year title.


At six years old in 1963, Kelso was still adding win after win to his repertoire. That season he swept nine of twelve starts, including the Woodward Stakes, Whitney Stakes, Suburban Handicap, Seminole Handicap, Nassau County Handicap, John B. Campbell Handicap, and the Aqueduct Stakes. For the fourth time in a row, he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Like the years before, he earned Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year.

Unlike most Thoroughbred racehorses, Kelso was still running at seven years old - and he was breaking records while doing so. He set new American records in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (3:19-⅕ for 2 miles) and in the Washington D.C. Invitational (2:23-⅘ for 1 ½ miles). He also won the Aqueduct Stakes and snatched second place finishes in the Woodworth Stakes, Monmouth Handicap, and Suburban Handicap. The year earned him a fifth Horse of the Year title. No other horse has won the title five times.

[Video: Kelso is named Horse of the Year for the fifth time]


The year 1965 marked Kelso’s eighth birthday. He raced just six times that year, managing to grab wins in the Whitney Stakes, Stymie Handicap, and Diamond State Handicap. The next year he raced just one time, winning an allowance race at Hialeah. Kelso suffered a sesamoid hairline fracture while training up to the Donn Handicap, prompting his retirement. Over his career he had run 63 times, winning 39. He had made a hard-earned $1.97 million. His earnings set a record that stood until Affirmed surpassed him fourteen years later. He finished in the money 84% of the time and had broken nine records. His record for two miles still stands to this day.

Kelso was a gelding, so he went home to Mrs.duPont’s Woodstock Farm in Maryland instead of entering stud life. He was joined here by the two companions he had during his career as a racehorse: a dog named Charlie Potatoes and a retired hunter named Spray. A retired racehorse named Pete took Spray's place when he passed away.

Kelso was regularly ridden as a hunter by Mrs.duPont until his arthritis got too bad in 1974. During that time he was also making public appearances for charity. In 1983, Kelso and Forego led the post parade for the Jockey Club Gold Cup in front of 32,000 people, fitting for the amount of times he won the race and the records he had set. The next day, October 16th, Kelso passed away from colic.

The career of Kelso stands as a prime example of what horses can do if they race later into their lives. He and his owner/breeder also stand as a solid example of what can be done with retired racehorses when they cannot (or should not) breed.

"Once upon a time there was a horse named Kelso. But only once." - Joe Hirsch



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Sources: Racing Museum America's Best Racing Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame American Classic Pedigrees