Quote of the Month

"Immortality has been realized once the roar of the crowd has been united."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Legends of the Fall

Autumn Leaves

September winds apply an exquisite luster to the dazzling oranges and rich brown hues beginning to gleam from the fall foliage. Autumn is the season distinguished by its harvest, a season of persistence and change, a season of transcendent growth. Children are climbing aboard yellow buses, while families prepare to gather and give thanks for the blessings all around them. It is the time of year that is glorified by poets and celebrated with pumpkins, a time when our moon is laced with wonder, and the clouds overhead in the sky appear to hover with infinite promise.

In horse racing, the fall season unfolds with an identity all its own. The swelter of summer has given way, and the clamor of the Triple Crown campaign has calmed to a muffled roar. Dreams are often realized during the spring, but autumn is the time when thoroughbreds walk the threshold of immortality. The life of a race horse does not begin on the track, nor does it end there. Many horses go on to enjoy acclaim in the breeding shed or success in a second career, but it is only a select few who will go on to become legends.  

Kelso was born at Claiborne Farm in 1957 and was owned by Allaire du Pont, an American sportswoman who was revered for her prowess as an aviatrix. Du Pont chose to geld Kelso early on due to both an unruly temperament and his modest pedigree. The first start of his three-year-old season would not occur until after the Triple Crown races were already run.

Du Pont had transferred training duties at her Bohemia Stable over to Carl Hanford in the spring of 1960, and it was under Hanford that Kelso began to fully blossom as a race horse. “He was an extremely determined horse,” Hanford explained. “If he saw a horse in front, he wanted to get him. You could take him back or send him to the front.” Kelso’s versatility, as described by his trainer, began to pay dividends in the second half of 1960. He won eight of nine starts that year, and his victory against older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup put the finishing touches on a nearly flawless seven months.

Kelso with Jockey Eddie Arcaro

Long before a Breeders Cup, the Jockey Club Gold Cup was considered the featured offering in horse racing’s fall line-up. Established in 1919, the race was run at the two-mile distance from 1921-1975. The distance has since been amended, and it is now contested over a mile and one-quarter. Following Kelso’s string of stakes victories in 1960, his dominant showing in the Gold Cup helped to earn him Horse of the Year honors. It was his first triumph in the autumn classic, but it was not to be his last. Kelly, as the horse was affectionately known, went on to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup an unprecedented five consecutive years.

In 1961, Kelso capped an eleven race winning streak by sweeping the New York Handicap Triple, a series that consists of the Metropolitan, the Suburban, and the Brooklyn. Jockeys Eddie Arcaro and Ismael Valenzuela were blessed to have been in the saddle for many of Kelso’s highlight reel runs. The dark bay gelding was victorious in thirty-nine of sixty-three lifetime starts, and he was voted Horse of the Year five years in a row from 1960-1964.  Kelso competed for eight seasons, but was finally sent into retirement at the age of nine after sustaining a non-life-threatening injury.

His induction into racing’s Hall of Fame came in 1967, but as a gelding, Kelso could not be retired to stud. Instead, Allaire du Pont opted to turn her esteemed champion into both a competitive show jumper, and her fox hunting partner. He would realize only moderate success as a show jumper, but his value as du Pont’s fox hunting partner would resonate with his loving owner for many years to come.

Kelso was applauded one final time at the race track as he was paraded before a crowd of 32,000 at Belmont Park, just prior to the 1983 Jockey Club Gold Cup. He died the following day at the age of twenty-six, and was subsequently buried at du Pont’s Woodstock Farm in Chesapeake City, Maryland.

He first rose to prominence in the fall, but the legacy he left behind has been embraced in each and every season. Kelso was sent forth from this life into the next with an inscription on his granite marker that fittingly read, “Where he gallops, the earth sings.” And to this day, his name continues to be sung.

Shuvee in the Winner's Circle

Horse racing is a sport riddled with bias, yet every so often, a filly comes along and silences cynics who believe that the ultimate bias must be based on gender. Shuvee was the product of impeccable breeding. She was foaled in 1966 at Whitney Stone’s Morven Stud in Virginia, descending from a bloodline that included such greats as Nashua, Nearco, and Hill Prince. Ownership duties were assumed by Whitney’s wife, Anne Stone, and soon thereafter, the racing moguls brought in trainer Willard “Mike” Freeman to condition the promising filly.

Shuvee took an immediate liking to the race track, scoring resounding wins in both the Frizette Stakes and the Selima Stakes as a juvenile. The chestnut filly quickly grew into her majestic frame, and as a three-year-old, she would become just the second filly ever to win racing’s Triple Tiara. In 1969, the set of races that comprised the Triple Tiara were the Acorn Stakes, the Mother Goose Stakes, and the Coaching Club American Oaks.

After padding her resume further with victories in the Alabama Stakes and the Cotillion Handicap, it appeared certain that Shuvee would lock up end of the year honors for three-year-old fillies. Much to the dismay of many, however, a Max and Buddy Hirsch trained filly named Gallant Bloom altered the course of destiny by defeating Shuvee in three memorable stakes contests. 1969 resulted in more than just a productive year, but Anne Stone and Mike Freeman knew that their star pupil’s best days might still be lying in wait.

By the fall of 1970, Gallant Bloom had been retired due to injury. Shuvee was in the midst of a busy four-year-old campaign that was about to reach a climax on the last day in October. Jockey Ron Turcotte was up in the saddle as Shuvee attempted to become the first female in history to upstage the boys in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. This was one Halloween devoid of any tricks. Turcotte sent Shuvee straight to the lead, hugging the rail from start to finish and never looking back. Aqueduct Race Track erupted into cheers as Shuvee set a new precedent for the more elegant gender in racing.

Shuvee returned to the Aqueduct oval to defend her Gold Cup crown the following year, only this time she would claim victory in the prestigious race by an emphatic seven lengths. She retired at the age of five, and would soon be back in Virginia to live out her retirement on more familiar soil. She was twice named Champion Older Mare, and was ultimately inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1975. The former chairman of the New York Racing Association, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, once toasted Shuvee, proclaiming that she was “one hell of a mare.” Paraphrasing these timeless words ever so slightly, Shuvee was one hell of a horse.

Autumn is the season of fulfillment, the season of thanksgiving. Brilliantly colored leaves cover the ground where newfound heroes will be foaled. We are hopeful for the stars of tomorrow, but forever grateful to the legends of the fall. 

The Author

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The author is a horse racing enthusiast determined to offer a unique vision of the sport's most paramount stories.