“He can beat any horse at any distance,” said jockey Eddie Arcaro. “Kelso was the best horse I ever rode.” Arcaro summed up in a few words the eight year career of the bay gelding beloved by America’s racing fans and one of the greatest Thoroughbreds of the twentieth century.
Foaled at Claiborne Farm, Kelso earned the first of his unprecedented five consecutive Horse of the Year titles in 1960 as well as being named champion 3-year-old. In 1961, he swept the Handicap Triple Crown, carrying 130 pounds in the Metropolitan H., 133 pounds in the Brooklyn H. and 136 pounds in Suburban H. and he began three year win streaks in both the Whitney H. and the Woodward S.
Kelso continued his championship form over the next three seasons. In 1962, he became racing’s first millionaire. In 1963, he was even better, setting a single season earnings record of $572,762. As a 7-year-old, he set the American record for two miles, running in 3:19 1/5 posting his fifth victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. After more than one tough second, he won the Washington, D. C. International in World Record Time for a mile and one-half on the turf of 2:23 4/5.
Kelso won three races in 1965, but time finally caught up with him after one start in 1966. He earned a record $1,977,896, with thirty-nine victories, finished second twelve times and third twice in sixty-three starts. He spent his retirement years as a hunter at Bohemia Farm. His final public appearance came at Belmont Park on October 15,1983 with fellow legendary geldings Forego and John Henry. Making a splendid appearance he returned home and died the next day at age 26.