It was hardly a surprise that Kelso, that I magnificent running machine owned by Mrs. Richard C. duPont, won the mile-and-an-eighth Whitney Stakes last week. While it may seem monotonous to some that one superb horse can so monopolize the handicap division, to others—including almost everyone in the crowd of 20,009 at Saratoga celebrating the centennial year of racing there—Kelso's performance as a 1-to-3 favorite was a thing of pure beauty to watch.
He carried 130 pounds, including Milo Valenzuela, like a feather and beat second-place Saidam (111 pounds) by more than two lengths. When he came back they gave him a big hand, and among those clapping most vigorously was a chubby little guy in a gray suit with short hair to match. "This must be a truly great horse," he said sincerely.
The speaker has been known to talk of a great horse before, but when he did it was his own, a horse also adopted by thousands of Americans as their own, a glamorized number named Carry Back. The chubby guy is Jack Price, of course, who has made news with Carry Back for three years on the track and almost one year off it.
Most people said Price was crazy when he took his horse to France last fall. They may have been right. But Price still thinks Carry Back can win the Arc de Triomphe and also beat Kelso. To prove it he has taken Carry Back out of retirement at stud and put him back in training. The first Carry Back-Kelso meeting will be in New York's Aqueduct Stakes on September 2.
The last time anyone took a serious look at Jack Price he was waltzing around Paris in a gray bowler, waving a $65 shooting stick and guzzling champagne at all the right watering holes. He has been a noisily important figure in U.S. racing ever since his appealing colt started winning all those 2-year-old stakes with tremendously exciting come-from-behind runs. When the bubble burst on the afternoon of the Arc, as Carry Back finished 10th (although beaten less than six lengths), some thought the best thing Price could do would be to go home to Coral Gables and thumb through his clippings, instead of continuing his role of self-appointed commissioner of racing. In a sense, this happened when Carry Back went to stud. All of a sudden there was Price, forlornly reduced from an internationally known racing personality to a man without a horse and nowhere in particular to go.
Predictably, Price did not take kindly to oblivion. He was a familiar figure this year at Hialeah and was in the act all the way at the Derby and Preakness, never failing to remind his audience that after all he owned and trained a horse of his own once. But it soon became apparent that there was only one way in which Jack could hold the limelight: bring Carry Back out of retirement and train him for more racing.
And so, last week, there was Jack Price at Saratoga with Carry Back and his $65 shooting stick, saying, "When some people go on vacation they take their dogs with them. I bring my horse."
In a more serious vein, he declared, "In the first place the publicity angle is crazy. I'm not doing this to get my name in the paper. I don't need any personal publicity. As for publicity for the horse, of course I want to keep his name before the public. He's a stallion, and I want breeders aware that he's around. That's my business." A day or so later, to emphasize his point. Price took a full-page advertisement in The Morning Telegraph to let everyone know that the reason for the horse's comeback was emphatically not that he was derelict in his stud duties (a service for which Price charges clients $6,500). Price is as aware as any horseman that studs do not generally return to the racetrack after serving as stallions and that, if they do, their record of success is hardly encouraging. (It has been done, by Assault, Stymie, Tomy Lee and others, but with mixed results.)
Among other reasons is the fact that the vast majority of horses, when retired to stud, are not completely sound. Because of this, their owners never give the slightest thought to attempting comebacks with them. This is not the case with Carry Back, who retired 100% sound and at the peak of his form.
Carry Back has had a busy year already. Between Feb. 1 and mid-June he managed to get 18 of his 26 mares in foal, but he had to work at it. Four of the mares were real problem cases, so much so that he served them a total of 43 times. The record shows that he was bred 104 times in four and a half months.
Today Carry Back, who may well have been overraced at times, looks extremely fit, and stronger, too. Weighing about 1,030 pounds, he seems to have lost none of his zest for racing, and his works have been very impressive. If he does not get into a race at Saratoga this week his first start will be in the Buckeye Handicap at Cleveland's Randall on Aug. 17. "I just want to prove that this can be done," says Price. "But if he runs one or two bad races then he retires for good. If he wins a couple of those big ones we'll go back to Paris."
Naturally, most of his fellow trainers still feel that Jack Price is crazy.