Kelso is known as being one of the greatest racehorses of all time, infact BloodHorse ranks him as #4 in their book, “Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century”. He was the star of the early 1960s and among his many races won during that era was the Suburban Handicap.
Kelso ran in four consecutive Suburban Handicaps during his storied career. His first swing at the race was in 1961. He was four-years old at the time and was on a great winning streak — he had won his last six races of 1960 and had already won the first three races of 1961.
It was July 4th and Kelso was looking as handsome as ever. He was cool and collected on his way over to the paddock, his ears standing high. He knew it was game time. As soon as “Riders Up” was called, Kelso began to prance and dance. It was obvious to anyone who saw him what was going to come next.
Kelso loaded into the starting gates as the 3-5 favorite. Upon his back he carried 133 pounds, spotting his rivals anywhere from 10 to 27 pounds. The high weight didn’t phase Kelso at all — he bounded out of the starting gates and jockey Eddie Arcaro guided the gelding into 4th place.
As they approached the far turn, Arcaro moved Kelso up to third and asked him to pass the leaders Talent Show and Francis S. With just the slight show of the whip, Kelso flew by his rivals. He stormed down the track to win by five lengths.
The large crowd of 50,071 knew that they had just witnessed something special. Kelso went on to finish 1961 with seven wins in nine starts and became just the third horse to sweep the Metropolitan Mile, Suburban Handicap, and Whitney Stakes in a single season (a feat referred to as the “New York Handicap Triple”).
Kelso wasn’t as lucky in 1962. He had finished sixth in the Metropolitan Handicap behind the previous year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Carry Back. Though he was able to win a mile purse race as a prep for the Suburban Handicap, he would ultimately finish second to a horse named Beau Purple. The loss was attributed to the jockey's poor timing. Nevertheless, Kelso was able to win many other important races that year.
He returned to the Suburban in 1963 looking fit and fierce. He came off the track the morning of the race bucking and playing - he was ready to roll. He broke from post position #2 as the 9-20 favorite, carrying 133 pounds. The great gelding and jockey Bill Shoemaker glided to an easy one length victory to the cheers of the 52,000 people in the grandstands.
Kelso tried to win the Suburban once more in 1964, but wound up finishing second by a head to Iron Peg. The great gelding had been carrying 131 pounds, his rival just 116. According to an article by New York Times, the general crowd thought that Kelso would win as he began making his move towards Iron Peg. “Here he goes, watch him eat him up,” the article said, recalling the crowd’s most common comment.
He was running faster than Iron Peg at the end of the stretch and had he had time to get just one more stride in, he would have won. It was a tough defeat, but a gallant one nonetheless.
All in all, Kelso won the Suburban Handicap twice and finished second in it two other times. Fans waving signs in support of Kelso had packed the grandstands for each edition of the race, just as they did each time he ran. As we all watch the Suburban Handicap this Saturday, July 4th, we will remember and celebrate Kelso’s incredible career. He was truly a special horse.
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