Even Carl Hanford, on the day of his induction into the Hall of Fame, said the reason he was selected for membership was because of one horse. He's right, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
Hanford, now 90, trained the mighty Kelso, the Horse of the Year in 1960. Kelso was voted racing's best again in 1961. Oh yeah, also in 1962. Let's see, he earned top honor in 1963, too.
And don't forget 1964.
How many other Thoroughbreds have been voted Horse of the Year five times? It's a loaded question, the answer being zero, of course. Ditto if the question were four rather than five. You have to drop down to Forego, the three-time Horse of the Year from 1974-76.
To be fair, Carl, you did train other stakes winners. But I'm willing to admit, like you, that without Kelso, your credentials would not have gotten you a plaque on the wall of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Perhaps we should look at it this way: What if a National Football League coach bounced around for 20 years and posted a 160-160 regular-season record and then won five straight Super Bowls -- would he be a candidate for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio?
It's another loaded question, because he would not only be a first-ballot candidate, he would be a unanimous selection.
That's basically the career you had, Carl -- a solid life of training highlighted by a masterful job conditioning one of the best horses of the last half of the 20th century. Perhaps an even better parallel would be John Madden, who took his place in the football Hall of Fame this year with one Super Bowl win.
Trainers don't get a Hall of Fame ballot, but it would be safe to assume anyone that has ever tightened the girth on a single horse understands how hard it is to keep a top horse going through five seasons at the highest level, carrying more weight and running more often than horses today.
Granted, Kelso was a gelding, mentioned not because it lessens his accomplishments, but because we don't know if horses like Secretariat or Affirmed, to name just two, would have been five-time Horses of the Year had they not been rushed off to the breeding shed.
Kelso actually had a year in which he lost more races than he won, breaking his maiden in his first start and then running second in his other two races as a juvenile. His trainer his first season was J.M. Lee; then Hanford had him for 60 starts.
At three, Kelso lost just once in nine starts, and while it was certain after four consecutive stakes wins he would be champion 3-year-old, he did what a 3-year-old must do to be Horse of the Year -- defeat older horses -- which he did in the Hawthorne Gold Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup Handicaps.
That would be the first of five consecutive Gold Cup wins (the race then run at two miles). And, perhaps an even greater accomplishment was in the D.C. International. Though Kelso was a great horse on dirt, Hanford knew he could also be a top runner on grass. He ran him four times in the 112-mile Laurel race, and after three straight second-place finishes, Kelso won the event in 1964.
The homebred son of Your Host retired with 39 wins, 12 seconds, two thirds, and then-record earnings of $1,977,896.
Kelso was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1967. His trainer joined him this year, which was long overdue.Others are Worthy
In addition to Hanford, there are others worthy of Hall enshrinement, only they aren't even eligible. Included in this group are breeders, owners, journalists, track announcers, racing officials, and industry innovators. The Hall of Fame currently only recognizes trainers, jockeys, and horses.
Shouldn't the Hall be inclusive for names like "Wizard of the Turf" John Madden, Calumet Farm, the Phipps family, Matt Winn, August Belmont, Charles Hatton, Red Smith, Joe Hirsch, Pete Pedersen, Chic Anderson, and Marshall Cassidy?
The list goes on and on.
What about the inventor of the starting gate, or the tote machine, or the safety rail?
The Hall was a great vision by its founders more than 50 years ago. But times change, and though our industry has always been slow to change, it is time to move forward.