Posted by on in Behind the Lens



Thirty years ago today, Melanie Collins guides Kelso over familiar terrain, the Belmont Park dirt course, accompanied by his friend "Pete" the pony, ridden by Debbie Ferguson. Applause rang down from the grandstand as the beloved gelding, age 26, jogged through the stretch.


In nearly 40 years of going to the races, I never had a better day than Oct. 15, 1983. Nothing before or since has come close. Ever. My most cherished memory of that magical day has nothing to do with cashing a big bet on an impossible longshot. It had everything to do with standing on the track alongside the horse I admired above all others, the incomparable five-time Horse of the Year, Kelso. And getting the photograph of a lifetime.

Can it really be 30 years to the day? When I heard that Kelso, then 26, and another Hall of Fame gelding, Forego, 13, would be returning to Belmont Park to promote the newly formed Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, a noble concept to provide homes to less-fortunate runners after their racing days, I begged my newspaper editor to allow me cover the event, with both my pencil and my camera.


I came to know Kelso as a little boy, watching the Race of the Week on TV in glorious black and white in the early 1960s. Blame, or credit, my grandmother for introducing me to the sport. The show was hosted by Win Eliot (any oldtimers remember the Schaefer Circle of Sports?) and the legendary Fred Caposella, whose velvety high-pitched, unemotional calls made him the unmistakable voice of New York racing for 37 years.

The long-retired “Cappy,” who kept active calling Bingo games in Boynton Beach, Fla., had also been invited back to Belmont Park to introduce the field for the Jockey Club Gold Cup with his trademark line, “It is now post time.”  It gave me goose bumps. Almost as much as watching Forego and Kelso, who hadn’t set foot on a track for 17 years, lead the Gold Cup post parade.

In the Gold Cup field was yet another gelding who had achieved icon status: John Henry. The presence of the three grand old men of racing at the same place at the same time was so momentous that renowned artist Richard Stone Reeves painted the trio on the Belmont backside a day before the race.

Though Kelso and I were close in age, I was too young to see him run in person. I collected memorabilia, old programs, news clips, even a 1963 magazine spread, “Life Visits Kelso.” But I always hoped we’d get a chance to meet, and in July 1978, I wrote to owner Allaire duPont, to ask if I could come down to Chesapeake City, Md., to interview her and take photos of Kelso for an article. Mrs. duPont couldn’t have been more welcoming and gracious. That letter remains with me as does a single hair from Kelso’s mane that fell out when I patted his neck, and many photos, like the one of the mailbox at Woodstock Farm (above) where Kelso received fan letters throughout his life. I still need to digitize many of the original film negatives before they permanently fade to black.

On that spectacular day in 1983, before more than 32,000 fans, I stood on the dirt as the field walked from the paddock through the tunnel and onto the track. As Kelso showed the way, a tiny yellow ribbon tied around his forelock, thunderous applause erupted. For a split second, Kelso paused, turned slightly and, I swear, looked right at me just long enough to quickly focus and fire off a frame. Just one. The saddle cloth says it all. He was older, grayer, and like many of us, a little thicker around the middle, but looked every bit as magnificent as King Kelly, the champion who was so good for so long. If, as the saying goes, we all have one great photo inside of us, this was it. Call it luck, good timing, or a gift from above. It was my moment.

Kelso’s New York adventure didn’t end happily. He died the next day, not long after his van arrived back at Woodstock Farm in Maryland. The cause was believed to be colic. Maybe, in hindsight, the trip was too much. But when a hero passes, we try to look for deeper meaning.  I like to believe that his final memories were of the adoring crowd, a reminder of the days when 60,000 people would cheer him home.  It’s the way any warrior would want to be remembered.


Photo: Kelso, left, and his longtime companion, "Pete," actually a gelding named Sea Spirit in his racing days, graze at Woodstock Farm in ChesapeakeCity, Md., in the summer of 1978.  







The National Steeplechase Association is out with the nominees for three of the stakes on next Saturday's 93rd running of the Far Hills Races at Moorland Farm in New Jersey. We'll preview most of them over the next few days, starting with the $100,000 Foxbrook Novice Hurdle. Don't forget your muck boots.


Absolum won a maiden claimer at Middleburg in the spring. Leslie Young trains for William Riddle. 


A veteran of 41 starts mostly on the flat, Albany Road has won $178,000. He broke his maiden at Fair Hill in May. Richard Valentine trains.


 Gil Johnston's globe-trotting 6-year-old Alburj has raced at the Curragh, Leopardstown, Fair House, Ascot, Saratoga, Belmont, Percy Warner Park, among others. He broke his maiden at the Queens Cup races in the Spring. Janet Elliot trains.


Riverdee Stable's Apse won a big optional claimer at Saratoga this summer and a maiden claimer at Atlanta in April. Richard Valentine trains.


Trainer Jonathan Sheppard saddled Bluegrass Summer to a win in an optional claimer at the end of the Saratoga meet. He also won at Stoneybrook in April, and took the rich Guilford Dudley flat race at the 2012 Iroquois races.


Cognashene won a maiden special weight race at Colonial Downs in June. A year earlier he scored at Woodbine in Canada, the scene of nine of his 20 lifetime starts. Neil Morris trains.


The Eddie Graham-trained Dr. Skip became a horse to watch as he launched his jump career this spring, taking a maiden at the Radnor Hunt Races in May. He finished fifth in the Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes at Saratoga and took a tumble in the William Entenmann at Belmont Park last month.


Extraextraordinary, trained by Doug Fout, won a starter allowance at Great Meadow at the Virginia Gold Cup races, then finished third in both the Jonathan Kiser and Michael Walsh novice stakes at Saratoga.


The Fields Stable's 4-year-old Kingdom, trained by Tom Voss, broke his maiden at Fair Hill in May, then ran three times at Saratoga. He finished fourth in the Kiser Novice Stakes, and second and third in two optional claimers.


 Labonte was an impressive maiden victor at the Iroquois races in May, but didn't finish in his only start since, an optional claimer at Saratoga.


Powerofone, from the team of Sheppard and Pape, has been brilliant and disappointing. In the spring, he won at Camden and Atlanta, then stepped up in company in the Marcellus Frost at Nashville and Michael Walsh novice stakes at Saratoga, and didn't finish. He was a sharp second in the William Entenmann Memorial at Belmont last month.


Riverdee Stable's Royal Bonsai finished third in the 2012 Grand National at Far Hills, his ambitious US debut. He's only raced once since, in the Marcellus Frost Stakes at Nashville, where he finished off the board. Richard Valentine trains.


A maiden winner at the 2012 Iroquois races, Sharp Numbers, trained by Jack Fisher, was unplaced in to Saratoga starts before finishing third in the Entenmann at Belmont.


Scoring back-to-back victories at Middleburg (maiden) and Great Meadow (allowance) in the spring, Scared Soul signalled his readiness as a stakes contender with a second in the Michael Walsh at Saratoga.


From the hot team of Julie Gomena and jockey Mark Beecher is Sporty, a 6-year-old son of Smarty Jones, who has won his last two starts. The first win came at the Colonial Cup races in Camden, S.C., last fall and at Colonial Downs in April. 


Michael Moran's Staying On surprised the field -- and bettors -- by winning the William Entenmann Novice Stakes at 14-1 at Belmont Park last month, his first win since breaking his maiden at the 2012 Radnor Hunt races. Jack Fisher trains.


Irv Naylor's Top Man Michael, now trained by former jockey Cyril Murphy, returns to the scene of his grandest triumph, the Gladstone Stakes.

Six stakes, five Grade 1s, worth $3.4 million highlight Saturday's Super Saturday card at Belmont Park. The stakes will be run as races five through 10. Post time is 1:05 p.m. Many of the contenders ran this summer in Saratoga, including 3-year-old classic winners Orb and Palace Malice, Whitney winner Cross Traffic, two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out, and 2012 Travers and this year's Woodward star Alpha. I'm going with Cross Traffic, whom I think is that good.

The most anticipated head-to-head matchup pits two-time Eclipse-award winning mare Royal Delta, coming off a sensational win in the Personal Ensign at the Spa, vs. leading 3-year-old filly Princess of Sylmar, who captured two Grade 1s in Saratoga, the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama. Handicappers are giving Royal Delta, the 3-5 morning line favorite, the edge. Her running style would seem to give Royal Delta a tactical advantage based on the speed-favoring nature of the Belmont strip so far this fall, but the Princess has the heart to post a 'royal' upset. 

There are plenty of other compelling story lines. A couple of personal favorites:

In the Kelso (1 mile on the dirt). Jackson Bend, who was pummeled and nearly killed in a training accident two years ago, made a dramatic and unexpected crowd-pleasing comeback in the Forego on August 31, finishing a very close second. The 6-year-old, who has won 9 of his 32 career starts, takes on Todd Pletcher's Graydar, a winner of 4 of 5 lifetime including the Grade 1 Donn last winter. Graydar, a striking gray son of Unbridled's Song, has been on the shelf since winning the New Orleans Handicap on March 30.

In the Vosburgh (6 furlongs, dirt). Drawing Away Stable's Strapping Groom, who nipped Jackson Bend in the Forego, squares off against Vanderbilt winner Justin Phillip, and The Lumber Guy, last year's Vosburgh winner. TLG was off for six months after a disastrous two-race experiment in California, and tuned up with an ok second at Saratoga. Strapping Groom's unlikely win smacked of divine intervention, as it took place a day after Drawing Away's beloved win machine, Saginaw, was put down after suffering catastrophic injuries in an optional allowance race.

Here are photos of many of Saturday's stakes contenders:

$1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, 1 1/4 miles






Cross Traffic





Flat Out



 Last Gunfighter






Palace Malice



Ron The Greek



Vitoria Olimpica 


$400,000 Beldame Stakes, 1 1/8 miles fillies and mares


And Why Not



 Princess of Sylmar



Royal Delta






Go Unbridled



Lady Cohiba





$400,000 Kelso, 1 mile 


Easter Gift






Hymn Book



Jackson Bend






Souper Speedy


$600,000 Turf Classic, 1 1/2 miles Turf


 Big Blue Kitten









King Kreesa



Little Mike






 Real Solution






Twilight Eclipse


$400,000 Vosburgh Stakes, 6 furlongs


 Bahamian Squall



Candyman E



Forty Tales



 Justin Phillip







Strapping Groom



The Lumber Guy


$600,000 Flower Bowl, 1 1/4 miles Turf fillies/mares








 Mystical Star



 Somali Lemonade






White Rose



Steeplechase fans couldn't hope for much more than the top-class fields that competed in the AP Smithwick and NY Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga this summer. But when the nominations came out for the $150,000 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park this coming Thursday, it did those races one better with the addition of reigning Horse of the Year Pierrot Lunaire. Mary Anne Houghland's Eclipse-award winner hadn't been seen on the track since winning the Grand National at Far Hills last October. Unfortunately, when the entries were drawn on Saturday, the 9-year-old's name was missing. He's still nominated for this year's Grand National, and hopefully he'll make it to the races. For now, however, the 2 1/2-mile Lonesome Glory is still living up to it Grade 1 billing. Of the division's best, only Pierrot Lunaire and Mr. Hot Stuff, the one-time Triple Crown hopeful turned steeplechase stakes winner, are absent. 

The Lonesome Glory will go off as the second race, at 1:36. The William Entenmann Memorial, a novice stakes with a $75,000 purse, is the first race on the card, at 1:05. Eleven horses, who hadn't won over jumps before June 1, 2012, were entered in the Entenmann. The field includes many budding stars including Dr. Skip, Martini Brother, and Extraextraordinary, and filly and mare champ Cat Feathers, among others. 

Here's a rundown of the Lonesome Glory contenders:



Gustavian won last year's Entenmann Memorial, and finished second in the National Hunt Cup at Radnor following a third in the Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg this spring.



Spy in the Sky could prove tough if he runs back to his 2012 Lonesome Glory form, when he just got nipped by Pierrot Lunaire.



The Grey Express, a mare, won the final jump race of the Saratoga meet, the Mrs. Walter Jeffords Stakes.



Mary Ann Houghland brought French-bred Molotof to run in the prestigious Calvin Houghland Iroquois Stakes, named in honor of her late husband. Molotof finished third, but has been out of action since.


Jonathan Sheppard is both the owner and trainer of Italian Wedding, whom he saddled to victory in the Turf Writers. 


Maybe the third time's the charm for Atlantic Equine Stable's English import Hunt Ball, who is still trying to adapt to racing on this side of the pond after two tough outings at the Spa. 


All Together ran a gallant second to Italian Wedding in the Turf Writers Cup, which came on the heels of a win earlier in the Saratoga meet.


Black Quartz finished off the board in the Michael Walsh Stakes at Saratoga, but won the Queens Cup at Mineral Springs, N.C., in the spring.


Iroquois winner scratched out of the Smithwick with a minor bug, but threw in a clunker to finishing a shocking sixth in the Turf Writers.



Divine Fortune, who had been breathing down Demonstrative's withers with strong seconds in the 2012 Colonial Cup and 2013 Iroquois didn't have a stellar summer in Saratoga.

Posted by on in Behind the Lens

Today we look at familiar, even famous, faces in the Saratoga crowd.


Jockey turned agent Angel Cordero.


Trainer Angel Penna, left, and owner Martin Schwartz.


Bob, Jill, and son, Bode, Baffert.


Barclay Tagg, center, and Funny Cide.


Trainer Bill Mott.


Trainers Billy Turner and Allen Jerkens.


D. Wayne Lukas.


Trainer Tony Dutrow.


Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez.


Tammy Fox, exercise rider and wife of trainer Dale Romans, and Archie.


Trainer Steve Asmussen.


Trainer Stanley Hough.


Exercise rider and valet Simon Harris.


Trainer Shug McGaughey.


Sheikh Mohammed.



 Trainer Seth Benzel.


Sam "the bugler" Grossman.


Trainer Rudy Rodriguez.


Starter Roy Williamson.


Trainer Ronnie Werner.


Trainer Roger Attfield.


Trainer Rick Violette.



Blacksmiths Ray Amato Sr. and Jr.



Allen and Elizabeth Jerkens.


Assistant trainer Aimee Dollase.


Trainers Eddie Keneally, left, and Dallas Stewart.


Trainer Dale Romans.


Trainer Tom Bush and Get Stormy.


Trainer George Weaver.


Javier Castellano.


Trainer Graham Motion.


NYRA blacksmith Joe Campbell.


Trainer Jimmy Jerkens.


Julien Leparoux.


Cousins John and Mike Veitch.


Trainer Larry Jones.


Trainer Kieran McLaughlin.


Trainer Leah Gyarmati and Diligent Gambler.


Trainer Marty Wolfson.


Trainer Mike Hushion.


Marylou Whitney and John Hendrikson.


Trainer Nick Zito.


Trainer Mike Maker.


Trainer Rick Schosberg.