A nose is a nose is a nose, Gertrude Stein never wrote, but last Saturday both the subject and the bobbing rhythm of the line would have been perfectly suited to Aqueduct where 51,000 yelling spectators saw one of the nosiest—and noisiest—stride-for-stride stretch duels in racing history. For the final 400 yards of the mile-and-a-quarter Woodward, the horse of almost every year, Kelso, and the possible horse of this year, Gun Bow, ran like a matched pair. That is how they went under the wire, and it must have taken not only the photo-finish camera but a microscope for the judges to determine that Gun Bow was the winner.
They called it "by a nose," of course, but it was barely by the flare of a nostril that the venerable and adored favorite of the crowd was beaten by his younger challenger. At the past-retirement age of 7, Kelso had put on a courageous show, and his thousands of worshipers did not want to credit what the photo told them: that Mrs. Richard duPont's grand gelding is no longer invincible in the fall weight-for-age races. For four straight years Kelso had used these events as almost automatic vehicles to carry him to the Horse of the Year title. The Woodward result left the so-often blasé Aqueduct crowd limp, and the refrain for the day was "Say it isn't so."
New Yorkers have been accused of being guys and dolls with money to spend at the races and an unemotional approach to the mutuel machines. Scoffers and critics berate them for their lack of sentimentality. Yet years ago they developed an attachment for Exterminator, and later for a claimer named Stymie, who won almost a million. Then, with the advent of television, Native Dancer became a personal pet. But it is Kelso whom they seem to love most. They cheered him as they have never cheered another horse when he beat Gun Bow last Labor Day to win the Aqueduct Stakes. Now, having won 18 of his 22 races at Aqueduct, Kelso had become the "house" horse—the hero who, by winning the Woodward for the fourth straight time, could eclipse Round Table's world money-earning record of $1,749,869. It was not surprising that the subway set and the Turf and Field group jointly made him the 4-to-5 favorite.
Kelso's own people were no less interested in a Kelso victory. Trainer Carl Hanford, deploring the fact that his champion had never had a stablemate to soften up the sort of front-running opposition that Gun Bow represented, said wistfully: "Kelso had more speed at 4 and 5 to take care of this kind of horse, but just the same I think he'll run awful big. I really do." Allaire duPont, one of the most gracious winners—and losers—the American turf has ever seen, shrugged nervously and added, "I feel just awful. I wish the race were tomorrow."
But tomorrow it was not, and the five-horse field got away at 4:50 right in front of a sea of Kelso admirers who clapped and cheered him from the moment he entered the walking ring until Jockey Milo Valenzuela took him docilely into stall No. 3. Gun Bow was to his inside and the Belmont winner, Quadrangle, to his right. He was ready. But so was Gun Bow, a horse with an unusually pleasant disposition and a relish for racing.
Winner of seven races in 13 starts this year, Gun Bow lost the Aqueduct to Kelso after his trainer, Eddie Neloy, decided—and Jockey Wally Blum agreed—that he had had to roll out of the gate unusually fast to get position on the first turn. Although he opened up more than five lengths on Kelso in the backstretch, Gun Bow had little left for the stretch and lost by nearly a length. "This time," said Neloy before the Woodward, "we'll go to the front all right but then wrap up under a tight hold and have something left for the run home."
Blum rode the perfect race. As planned, he took the lead with his immensely agile gate horse, and Valenzuela brought Kelso right along with him, just to his outside and never as much as two lengths away from the lead. Manuel Ycaza had Quadrangle trailing the pair closely, while Colorado King and Guadalcanal—both shooting for fourth money of $5,410—straggled behind like a couple of paying spectators.
Up the backstretch the leaders held their positions—Kelso still forced to stay outside, which is the long way home. In the final turn both Quadrangle and Kelso moved to challenge and, at the head of the stretch, the three favorites were nearly abreast. Then, suddenly, Blum took Gun Bow slightly wide at the quarter pole, and Ycaza shot Quadrangle through on the rail. "When I saw Milo and Blum playing mouse and cat with each other," said Ycaza, "I thought I could surprise them both." But Quadrangle, a factor until the eighth pole, discovered that it is not all that easy to whip older horses even with a five-pound weight allowance. He retired to finish third, beaten by four lengths, and the race was left to the two best horses.
With Gun Bow on the inside, on a track labeled "good" but nonetheless dead and still slightly greasy after the previous day's rain, the pair raced head and head. "At the eighth pole," Blum said later, "Kelso was nearly half a length in front of me, and I thought I was through." And he should have been, agreed Valenzuela, except that "Kelso began to lug in. We bumped twice, and it might have cost us the race."
Bump or no bump, the two fought on in as furious a finish as has ever been seen. As they crossed the wire in 2:02 2/5, the enormous crowd settled into a breathless quiet to await the verdict. Eddie Neloy, running down to greet Gun Bow, said excitedly: "I think we lost. Gun Bow is the second-best horse, but no matter what, Wally Blum rode him to perfection. We have no excuse, and it was as thrilling a race as I have ever seen." However, agonizing minutes later, it was Gun Bow's number that went up, and he was the new champ, not second-best after all. The Aqueduct crowd was duly appreciative, but cautiously so. Gun Bow, recently bought for $1 million by the John Gaines syndicate, had made his reputation in faraway places like Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park, Arlington Park and even Saratoga. But now he had added to his stature before Kelso's own fans, and if Kelso is destined at last to lose his champion's wreath, New York's horse-playing sophisticates have found in Gun Bow a deserving successor.