Kelso won the Woodward Stakes at Belmont last Saturday and thereby clearly established himself as the best horse in the U.S. Is he also the best horse in the world? This Sunday in Paris the French champion 3-year-old, Right Royal, will meet Molvedo, Italy's brilliant son of the prestigious Ribot, and some 20 others of Europe's finest in the rich (more than $175,000) and historic Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. That race will determine Europe's best, and hopefully the winner will come to the Washington D.C. International at Laurel on Nov. 11. Two Russian horses will also be there. So will Kelso—and if the owners of these overseas hopefuls want some unsolicited advice from a possibly biased source, I suggest that they bring over fit horses prepared to run at a genuine champion.
In only eight years the Woodward Stakes has become the most testing event in the U.S. racing calendar. It is weight for age (120 pounds on 3-year-olds, 126 on all older horses)—which means that a true decision is not influenced by arbitrary weights assigned by the track handicapper. Its distance of a mile and a quarter usually frightens off the many rich colts who make an almost tedious habit of winning sprint stakes, only to stop dead in their tracks when asked to demonstrate true stamina against a field with any class to it. The Woodward has been won twice by Sword Dancer and once by such horses as Traffic Judge, Mister Gus, Dedicate and Clem. Others who ran in it but were not good enough, at least on those particular days, include Nashua, Gallant Man, Bold Ruler, Round Table, Hillsdale and Bald Eagle. The Woodward is not a race for pretenders.
The odds were right
Last week's renewal drew only five starters, and it was obvious that Kelso, owned by Mrs. Richard duPont, was going to go off as the odds-on favorite. He closed at 1 to 2 and ran true to his odds. The others battled only for second, third and fourth money. At the start, as expected, Llangollen Farm's Divine Comedy and C. V. Whitney's Tompion went to the front. Eddie Arcaro stayed just behind them with Kelso and was followed by Eddie Burke's Whodunit and the sentimental favorite of the crowd of 40,212, Jack and Katherine Price's Kentucky Derby winner, Carry Back.
Willie Shoemaker had Divine Comedy nearly two lengths in front on the back-stretch, but as the field went by the half-mile pole Arcaro and Kelso ranged up alongside Tompion, who was still second, and Tompion gave up the fight. Whodunit and Carry Back were never really in it. "In the middle of the far turn, with less than half a mile to go, I went after Divine Comedy," said Arcaro later. "All I did was tap Kelso—and away he flew." Turning into the homestretch, Kelso had already opened up three lengths, and by the time he reached the wire he had increased his margin to eight. Divine Comedy hung on to take second by half a length over the late-rushing Carry Back, with Whodunit a neck behind in fourth and Tompion last by six lengths.
Belmont is not the fastest race track in the world, so Kelso's time of two minutes fiat (after Divine Comedy's early fractions of 23⅕ 46[1/5] and 1.10 for six furlongs and 1:34[4/5] for the mile) makes this one of the most remarkable races ever run in New York. It tied a 48-year-old track record set by Whisk Broom II (a time, incidentally, that is still being disputed by old hands, who claim Whisk Broom's manual timers mistakenly stopped their watches before the winner crossed the finish line). In modern times only one other horse, Tom Fool, has covered a mile and a quarter at Belmont in less than 2:01. The Greentree champion won the 1953 Suburban in 2:00[3/5]. Kelso undoubtedly could have broken two minutes if Arcaro had realized that a record was in sight. "If they'd told me at the 16th pole about the time," he said, "I might have shook him up a bit. Even as it was, I had to keep tapping him down the stretch because I felt that he was trying to loaf on me."
Ironically, for much the same reason that Tom Fool did not receive the full acclaim he deserved, Kelso has not been entirely accepted by the public as, for example, Carry Back has been. A Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont winner wins fame automatically. What horses do when they become "old," at 4, is too often thought to be of no consequence. Since neither Tom Fool nor Kelso ran in any of the Triple Crown classics for 3-year-olds their accomplishments may never be fully appreciated.
Two defeats in two years
Earlier this year Kelso joined Whisk Broom II and Tom Fool as the only horses to win the handicap triple crown, consisting of the Metropolitan, the Suburban and the Brooklyn. He did it under burdens of 130, 133 and 136 pounds, giving away gobs of weight to his rivals. It was a tremendous achievement, as Tom Fool's had been eight years earlier. Kelso came to the races late a year ago, but when he did he immediately began winning. This year it has been the same story. In these two years he has had 16 starts and won 14 of them (as a 2-year-old in 1959 Kelso started only three times, winning once and finishing second twice). Both defeats came at Chicago's Arlington Park; after finishing fourth there a month ago Arcaro insisted, "The track was like a skating rink—all slidy and slick."
The U.S. candidate for best horse in the world is neither ugly nor particularly pretty. He is a combination dark bay and brown and, like the Italian champion, Ribot, does not look impressive until he begins moving. Then the beautiful rhythm and smooth action immediately stamp him an individual with unique class. Unfortunately, Kelso, a son of the brilliant sprinter Your Host and the Count Fleet mare Maid of Flight, is a gelding and will be unable to pass on his championship qualities.
Arcaro has this to say: "I'm not kidding. I think he may be as great as Citation. Citation was the best I ever saw or rode, and since his day I've either ridden or ridden against every other good horse in the country. If Kelso goes on winning like this I'll have to say he's as good as Citation—and I never thought I'd be saying that about any horse."