It took seven decades for Carl Hanford to make it back to the Derby. The trainer of the legendary Kelso turned up this year when his youngest brother, Ira "Babe" Hanford, was honored as the oldest living jockey to have won the Run for the Roses. Babe piloted longshot winner Bold Venture to victory in 1936.
"Hell, if I knew I was going to have this much fun, I would have showed up a lot sooner," said Hanford with a twinkle in his eye.
Now 90, Carl Hanford sits in the living room of his brick ranch which is located just a few furlongs from Delaware Park. Three portraits of Kelso look down upon him. Kelso was battle tough, durable, and relentless. He raced for eight years, winning 39 of 63 career starts, and is the only five-time (1960-64) Horse of the Year.
"I had no idea I was even up for it," said Hanford of his Racing Hall of Fame induction. "It's a great honor, but Kelso is the one who put me there."
A former jockey, and a trainer for 30 years, Hanford confesses the honor is bittersweet. His wife, Millie, and good friend Allaire du Pont, Kelso's owner and breeder, both passed away in the last year. Millie worked Delaware Park's paddock gate for 25 years.
"She knew everyone who came through there," Hanford said. "Millie never met a stranger."
"My mother and Mrs. du Pont wanted it so badly for him," related Carl's daughter, Gail, who trains six horses at Delaware Park. "Getting into the Hall of Fame just came a year too late. But maybe they cast the two votes that put him over the top."
One of seven brothers and three sisters, Carl grew up in Fairbury, Neb. Oldest brother Buddy traveled to New York, eventually becoming the contract rider for trainer Preston Burch. During a morning workout in 1933, Buddy's mount clipped heels with another horse and went down. Buddy died that night from head injuries. The accident occurred a week before he was to ride in his first Kentucky Derby. Three years later, "Babe" won it.
Carl quit high school and followed Buddy east, where he rode the winner of the first race run at Suffolk Downs, in July 1935. Hanford began his training career prior to serving five years in the Army's Remount Division during World War II. In the '50s Hanford conditioned the filly La Corredora, a winner of five stakes races, and counted Art Rooney (owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers) among his clients. In January of 1960, a conversation with an old friend changed his life.
"Exercise rider Charley Maloney told me Dr. (John) Lee was giving up his training duties, and that Mrs. du Pont was increasing her stable and was in need for a full-time trainer," recalled the soft-spoken Hanford.
At the time, du Pont had seven 3-year-old fillies. Her farm manager, Jim Hallahan, suggested she interview Hanford, citing Hanford's success with La Corredora. He got the job and got his hands on a feisty gelding named Kelso.
Under Hanford's conditioning and the urging of jockeys Bill Hartack and Walter Blum, the bay gelding won eight of nine races as a 3-year-old in 1960. For the feat of whipping older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Kelso was awarded honors as both the 3-year-old champion male and Horse of the Year.
"Kelso was an extremely determined horse," said Hanford. "If he saw a horse in front, he wanted to get to him. You could take him back or send him to the front. He was an extremely sound horse who was light on his feet with incredible balance. Kelso could wheel on a dime, spinning around in a circle and never letting his feet touch each other."
In some racing circles Hanford's career has been viewed as training only one champion horse.
"Carl deserves this honor, a special place in racing," said trainer Eddie Gaudet, 75. "He only had a handful of horses each year. You know, good horses just run. It's how you handle them that makes them great. He never overcooked a horse. It's a hard thing to be patient, but Carl gave his horses time to develop."
During a recent two-hour visit, Hanford was constantly springing up to track down photo albums and mementos. He fished through a batch of videotapes, then grabbed one and slapped it into his recorder. It was a simulated race featuring the top champions of American racing. Kelso beat Man o' War by a half-length.