By Bud Lamoreaux
-- What's a gelding worth? Not a plugged nickle in the breeding world; not as much as a nice goat that might serve as a willing companion to a fractious Thoroughbred. Geldings are everything a shedrow fears--a champion that can't reproduce. It's happening in Japan right now with Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner War Emblem, who while not a gelding, is proving disinterested in breeding.
But fuggettabout reproduction, the railbirds in New York would say. What about us? We need a horse we can follow like Forego and Kelso. Those champions of decades ago couldn't have any progeny. But they got people excited enough to come out to the racetrack, even if just to watch them parade their stuff. Kelso was Horse of the Year five times; Forego a three-time winner. And they did it in successive years. That's the secret ingredient.
I remember going down to Delaware horse country with Heywood Hale Broun to interview Allaire du Pont for CBS News about her handicap champion Kelso, when she was turning him into a jumper. Woodie was taken with Kelso's mailbox, jammed with fan mail. Kelso had carried top weight in all his races and never batted an eye. He put fannies in the seats and made new fans for racing. That was the early 1960s. Racing was big stuff...before television became big stuff, when the Triple Crown was bigger than "Indy" or the NBA or even the "Grand Slam" of golf.
Forego was a horse of a different color. He arrived in the 1970s as a well-beaten fourth in Secretariat's Derby. But when Secretariat went off to the breeding shed, Forego, all 17 hands of him, took over the game for the next three years. Running on match-stem legs under increasing amounts of weight, he brought out the fans not because he was graceful or beautiful, but because he was all muscle. Frank Whiteley, his trainer, once said, "Every time he goes out there, it could be the last."
That was Forego's appeal, true grit. He was so big Whiteley put steel shoes on him and got the biggest farrier on the backside, Jarbo, to nail them on. It was quite a sight. Then to add to the legend, there were the stories that made the rounds. Like the one that gentleman trainer and CBS broadcaster Frank Wright told about Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew being paraded in front of Forego's Belmont barn every morning as kind of a challenge to the old king. "One day Whiteley put up a pair of boxing gloves and Slew never showed up after that," said Wright.
As the weights kept mounting, Whiteley kept hollering. Forego's rider, Bill Shoemaker, said Whiteley told him that when he dismounted and took the saddle off, he should fall to his knees to give the racing secretaries a not-so-subtle message. All of this made Forego a hero to the usually hard-bitten New York racing fans. According to Whiteley, "He'd stop and look at people in the paddock at Belmont, walking around the saddle enclosure he'd stop and look at 'em. And he eyeballed his competition too. Looked them in the eye."
Broun once remarked, "The glamour of handicap racing arises from the old saying that weight would stop a freight train. And people would come out to see if, in fact, a freight train like Forego could be stopped. I think he liked the middle of the racetrack because he was sure there was nobody in his way. And when he was charging, if you were in his way, he might very well run over you."
Forego was not an easy horse to handle. I asked his owner, Martha Gerry, about that and she said, "He would be fractious back in the barn and kick up a fuss and hated his head to be fooled with. But once he started his walk over to the paddock, he was Mr. Dignity. He kind of knew he was going to perform."
We don't expect Funny Cide to live up to that kind of a legend, but he can give racing an ingredient that has been lacking for 25 years, a Triple Crown winner that has a chance to become the people's horse. Former "Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt" executive producer Bud Lamoreaux is a four-time Eclipse Award winner.