Kelso started life as a fairly healthy colt on Claiborne Farm near Paris, Kentucky. His sire, Your Host, was not a leading stallion and he suffered from a twisted neck – the result of an injury he received as a youngster. His mother, Maid of Flight, had no reputation as a racehorse despite having Man O’ War as her grandsire. Kelso was Maid Of Flight’s first yearling. He was scrawny, runty and full of life. His owners likely never had ideas of making a successful racer out of this little runt and they gelded him early in the hopes of calming him down. However, Kelso had other ideas.
He never settled and in 1959 he made his two-year-old debut at Atlantic City Race Course. Kelso showed early signs of promise on that day when he came in first under jockey John Block. Ten days later he came in second and even though he was a marked favourite for his third race, he again only managed to garner second place. After these three initial races he was taken back home to develop a little more.
His third year started slowly and he did not race until after the Triple Crown in 1960 had finished. Trainer Carl Handford undertook the challenge of training this headstrong youngster and it was Carl Handford who would see him through the rest of his career. Kelso came under the guidance of a number of jockeys during this period until Ismael Valenzuela took him in 1962 and stayed with him for more than three years. Kelso’s first start in 1960 at Monmouth Park was also his first win for that year. Before long, he became known as a winner. He was incredibly light on his feet and very sound. He took eight in nine starts and set a record at the Aqueduct Racetrack for the three-year-olds’ mile. When he ran the Lawrence Realization Stakes, he equalled Man O’ War’s record breaking time.
By the end of 1960, Kelso was voted the three-year-old Champion Male and the Horse of the Year. The following year he won seven in nine starts and he was voted Champion Older Horse and Horse of the Year a second time. He also won the Jockey Club Gold Cup five consecutive times and the Woolward Stakes three times in a row. Kelso has so many victories that it would be difficult to list them all here. Since Kelso had been gelded, there was no sense in sending him off to a stud farm so Kelso competed for eight long seasons – from 1959 to 1966. He was a crowd pleaser and a wage winner. In 1965 he suffered a hairline fracture during a workout and he was retired from racing at the age of nine. After this Kelso went on to be a successful hunter and show jumper. In 1967 he was inducted to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Unfortunately Kelso died on 16 October 1983 at 26 years of age. He was a passionate and headstrong horse who carried himself proudly and rose to the top of his game despite all odds.