Among the 50,234 horseplayers at New York's Aqueduct last Saturday there were two especially jittery ladies. Each owned a horse, and each thought she had a chance in the Woodward Stakes. More important, each hoped that victory would lead to something even bigger for her horse.
Mrs. Richard C. duPont hoped her horse, Kelso, would win the Woodward for an unprecedented third consecutive year. If he did, she knew full well that Kelso would also automatically become America's Horse of the Year for the fourth time—and he would have the responsibility of defending U.S. prestige against the foreign invaders who will come to the classic Laurel (Md.) International on Nov. 11.
Katherine Price hoped that her Carry Back might go on to win this week's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris—which would have been one of the best international achievements ever to be credited to an American horse. Carry Back ran in the Arc a year ago, only to finish 10th, beaten some six lengths.
Shortly before 5 p.m. one woman's hopes were confirmed, the other's were violently dashed. Kelso won easily, clearly establishing his supremacy over the best in the U.S., but Carry Back ran a dismal fourth. Jack and Katherine Price gloomily canceled their trip to Paris, while Allaire duPont, bursting with pride in her amazing Kelso, could only gasp, "Isn't he a bird!"
Kelso, the bird, now has a justifiable claim to the title of best racehorse in the world, and were it not for the fact that he is a gelding and therefore ineligible to compete in the Paris race he would have a perfect chance to prove it at Long-champ this Sunday. But he can go a long way toward proving it at Laurel. The International promises to be a fine horse race. While Kelso appears invincible against American fields, he has yet to win at Laurel. Two years ago he was barely beaten by T.V. Lark, and last year, despite one of his best performances, he lost by a length and a half to France's Match II.
The Woodward, run for only the 10th time last week, is an important race for us because for the first time each fall it brings together—or tries to—the best older horses and top 3-year-olds on a weight-for-age basis at the Kentucky Derby distance of a mile and a quarter. Never Bend was the only one of this year's 3-year-olds to accept the challenge, and he therefore carried 120 pounds, while Kelso and the three other older horses in the race, Crimson Satan, Carry Back and Garwol, carried 126.
Kelso has given away more than 20 pounds and has won so often that the slight advantage to Never Bend seemed inconsequential. But the fact is that veteran handicappers are agreed that a six-pound weight difference in late September should give a definite edge to a 3-year-old over older horses. Sword Dancer, for example, beat older horses in the 1959 Woodward. Then Kelso came along. The only time anybody has an edge over Kelso is when Kelso stays in the barn. But Kelso doesn't. He has now won 30 out of 43 starts and $1,485,917, which puts him second only to Round Table on the alltime earnings list. Furthermore, the terrible truth for rival owners is that Kelso is so sound that Mrs. duPont and Trainer Carl Han ford could keep him running for years. There is some consolation in the fact that Mrs. duPont cannot enter him in the rich 2-year-old races, and she is far too nice a lady to change his name and try to slip him into next year's Kentucky Derby—one of the few races Kelso has not won, undoubtedly because he did not run in it.
At any rate, in the Woodward, Never Bend had whatever chance there was of beating Kelso and he made the most of it. With Bill Shoemaker sitting in for grounded Manuel Ycaza, the obvious strategy was to take a big lead, then ease the pace and try to hang on in the homestretch. Garwol ran along fairly close to Never Bend for half a mile, with Kelso third. But rounding the final turn, Jockey Milo Valenzuela called upon Kelso, and he won easily by three and a half lengths in the excellent time of 2:00[4/5].
The big disappointment of the race, of course, was Carry Back, who had run so commendably two weeks previously in the United Nations Handicap at Atlantic City. Carry Back ran fourth the whole way. He never showed his old finishing kick, and when he finally crossed the wire he was six lengths behind third-place Crimson Satan and 14 behind Kelso. Garwol was another four lengths back in last place.
Only the Never Bend camp really hoped to beat Kelso, but Jack Price expected Carry Back to make a better showing. His jockey, John Rotz, later said, '"I had a nice hold on him down the backside. I didn't think I'd beat Kelso—nobody in his right mind does. But I figured we'd be an easy second. The quarter of a mile around the far turn told the story. The others moved away from me, got the edge on me, and I could see Carry Back wasn't going to run a top race."
Did Carry Back deserve the trip to Paris after this clinker, Rotz was asked. "I would ponder it greatly," was his statesmanlike reply, "depending on how much money I had and how much I thought of the sporting world. Then I'd probably decide to go. Understand, I'm prejudiced; I've never been abroad, and I'd like to go to Paris more than anything in the world."
That could have been Jack Price talking a year ago, before Carry Back wound up 10th in the large Arc field. This time Price displayed more of a sense of realism than many have given him credit for. "If the horse had run a good fourth and had been closing on his field, it would have been one thing," he said gloomily back at the barn after the race. "But he ran a bad race, and I don't know why. When he gets beaten 14 lengths, why should I now go out and spend $15,000 to go to Paris and find out if he can run as well as he did in his last race at Atlantic City? I can run him a few times here, maybe in the Trenton Handicap, and find out a lot cheaper—but not run him against Kelso. No, thanks!"
Then, as though he had just hit upon a new way to get Carry Back once again into the winner's circle, he beamed and said, "Nope, $15,000 is too much to spend for that kind of a trip. But I tell you what we will do. We'll spend $1,000 and rent a place and have a party. We'll call it A Night in Paris, and after a while some of us may not know the difference."