Case for Carl
Updated: Tuesday, March 20, 2001 9:04 AM
Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2001 9:04 AM
Out of the loop for too many years now, his hair is as white as a Lukas bridle and his titanium knees are more attuned to WD-40 than Absorbine. But at 85, he's still trim, alert, and enjoying life with Millie, his bride of 44 years. That grin--as wide and warm as a Nebraska prairie under an August morn--is still his trademark.
We speak of Carl Hanford, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame's greatest un
shrined trainer. That he is not in the pantheon along with three generations of Burches, Laz, Charlie, Hirsch, and Woody, and perhaps 65 or so other celebrated trainers, is a grave injustice to a humble, classy gent who mentored Kelso, one of America's top five Thoroughbreds of all time.
Kelso carried up to 136 pounds, set or equaled nine American or track records, corraled five division championships, and won 39 races and almost $2 million, ruling as the world's leading money-
winner for almost a quarter of a century. Kelso's five Jockey Club Gold Cups are on display at the Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The shameful irony is that the man who crafted their winning is not.
Keeping a fragile, finely tuned racing machine at the top of his game for five months is the test of a trainer's skill, patience, and clairvoyance. It also takes a mighty assist from Lady Luck. How many Derby hopefuls are still around for August's Travers? To keep a racehorse at Horse of the Year pitch for a half-decade is unheard of.
The knock against Hanford is that some voters perceive Kelso to have been his trainer's aberration. That's insulting; like saying Neil Armstrong's only claim to fame was walking on the moon.
Carl Hanford, one of three Nebraska brothers who were jockeys--the youngest won the 1936 Kentucky Derby aboard Bold Venture, and the eldest was killed in a 1933 spill--trained for the small, private stable of Allaire du Pont's Bohemia Stable that still races its homebred produce. When Hanford took over the Bohemia horses in February 1960, the crop consisted of three fillies and two geldings. A private trainer plays the cards he is dealt--not the 100 or more pricey prospects that today's marquee trainers have at their disposal.
Over the years and for various clients, Hanford won the Monmouth Oaks and Ladies Handicap with La Corredora, the Schuylerville with Idealistic, the Test with Cestrum, the New England Futurity with Land O Liberty, and the Miss America Turf Handicap with Soldadesca. He knew how to handle a good horse when one came along.
That Carl Hanford's Hall of Fame recognition is restricted to Delaware and Nebraska is a matter of great personal chagrin to me, a member of the Hall of Fame Historic Review Committee. There are only eight of us who act in congress as a sort of Court of Last Resort, pondering the Turf's overlooked or underappreciated.
One member of the group is the revered dean of Turf writers, Joe Hirsch, whose most quoted line may well have been, "Once upon a time there was a horse named Kelso. But only once."
Several members of the group, like myself, are still warmed by memories of touring Sunny Jim's shedrow and pleasant outings at Lake Desolation with family and friends at Fitz's annual August get-
togethers. Or breakfasting with Max Hirsch over Virgie's tasty fixins, all the while howling at the antics of Max's tree-climbing dog. Or squinting into the rising sun at Jimmy Jones on that fat pony as he held court while Citation and Coaltown were grazed. Surely, we know one when we see one.
We were too late for Virgil (Buddy) Raines, who won the Preakness with Greek Money and a handicap mare title with Open Fire, both for Donald Ross' Brandywine Stable. Raines' story (sold in his youth as a mere chattel) was one of the most compelling stories in Turf history. Buddy's last years were spent waiting for the Hall call that never came. Never got off the also-eligible list. Sad.
Let's not let that happen to Hanford, a hay, oats, and water trainer, a coat-and-tie gentleman, and a distinguished track steward. His career began at Saratoga. It is where it should end. Up there with those five gleaming Jockey Club Gold Cups--and once upon a time a horse named Kelso.
Left up to New York fans, it would be a no-brainer.
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