If you asked most racing people to name the best trainer in Queensland, it’s fair to say that many people, without hesitation, would put forward the name “Kelso Wood”. These days Kelso Wood is only a couple of years away from his 70th birthday and the trademark of his stable is the consistency of stable runners. How many people knew that Kelso Wood could have been lost to racing as he walked away from racing at one point to drive cabs in Brisbane? I came across a fascinating insight into Kelso Wood in the February 1985 edition of Turf Monthly written on the career of Kelso Wood up to and including age 40. The article was penned by the late Graham Dawson and in full reads, exactly as below:
Time and Tide, Eskimo Prince and High Classic.
Trainer Kelso Wood, 40, would be the last person to suggest all three gallopers were of equal ability, however, each horse has played a part in the career of the poplar horseman.
After several years of training his string at Randwick, Kelso and his wife, Pat, returned home to Brisbane during the winter carnival last year.
For someone without a family background in racing, Kelso has succeeded in an industry where only the best survive.
“I came from Brisbane originally,” he explained recently. “My parents lived at Fairfield. I was small and liked horses as a kid, so when I left school I was apprenticed to trainer Athol Strong.”
Kelso Wood was only 14 years old when he entered Strong’s stables.
“I was 15 when I started riding and served six years of my time in Brisbane before I went to Sydney, for twelve months,” Wood continued.
Kelso’s father worked on dairies in the Brisbane area. He had no association whatsoever with horses, although he was similar in stature to a jockey.
The trainer has a brother.
“He’s over six feet tall and definitely not jockey material,” smiled Kelso.
Ask Kelso Wood how he fared as an apprentice and he’ll reply: “I rode a few winners.
“I never won any of the big races,” Kelso reflects. “I did win a few races on gallopers like Snell and Ruperion”.
Wood won the McDougall Stakes, the first two-year-old race for fillies, in Brisbane on Pahlavi which was raced in the latter stages of her career by the late Jack Parr.
One of Australia’s leading orchardists, Parr raced a number of gallopers including Toi Port (AJC Doncaster Hcp – twice), Golden Khan (BATC Doomben Cup) and Carnation Girl, with outstanding success.
Wood met with enough success during his apprenticeship to almost forfeit his allowance.
He rode a lot for Neil Strong just as that trainer was beginning his career and the pair formed a winning combination.
“But I was always pretty heavy,” Wood lamented.
“I went to Sydney because I wanted to try something different,” he added.
The young rider had his apprenticeship transferred to veteran Randwick trainer Harry Plant after spending two weeks with Cec Rolls who trained the outstanding two-year-old performer Eskimo Prince.
“I rode the black a couple of times in trackwork,” recalled Kelso.
“He was a brilliant horse,” Wood continued.
Eskimo Prince (bl h 1961, Todman-Chicquita, by Blank) was bred by Sir Gordon MacArthur of Victoria and sold for $12,710 at the 1963 Inglis Easter yearling sales.
Raced throughout his career by Perc Galea and his son, Bruce, Eskimo Prince contested 18 races recording nine wins, four seconds, one third and $53,020 prizemoney.
Unplaced only four times, the black was a sensation right from the word “Go”.
Not only because of his remarkable galloping ability, but thanks also to the desire of Perc Galea to bet up big on his horses, Eskimo Prince started favourite for his first 16 starts, including nine times as odds-on elect.
It was only in the 1965 AJC Epsom Hcp (1600m) and VATC Caulfield Stakes (9f) that The Prince started at anything like a “good” price.
In the Epsom Eskimo Prince, starting at 5-1, finished 13th behind Even Better (25-1) whilst at Caulfield the black finished 10th to Winfreux (20-1) in the Australasian record time of 1.48.4 with Light Fingers the 2-1 favourite finishing third.
Eskimo Prince had his first start on September 28, 1963 in the AJC Breeders’ Plate over five-furlongs at Randwick.
Starting 1-3 favourite, the son of Todman gave Athol Mulley an easy ride winning by four lengths in race record time.
Tommy Smith’s good two year old, Prince Okawa chased Eskimo Prince home and later became the only juvenile to defeat the black colt.
At his second race start, Eskimo Prince won the inaugural STC Silver Slipper Stakes (4-1/2f 29 yds) starting 4-7 favourite and defeating Son Of Tod by a length. Aranulla finished third.
Given a brief let-up by connections, Eskimo Prince returned to racing in the L.G. Frazer Hcp (6f) at Warwick Farm in February, 1964.
Prince Okawa defeated the 6-4 favourite by one length, however, it was a much fitter Eskimo Prince which faced the starter three weeks later to contest the Golden Slipper.
A solidly backed 7-4 favourite, Eskimo Prince recorded a ridiculously easy victory over Australia’s top 2YOs winning the 1964 Slipper by four lengths from Farnworth (8-1) with Star of Heaven (7-2) another two lengths off in third place.
As Mulley brought Eskimo Prince back to scale Galea threw fistfuls of money to punters lining the enclosure at Rosehill and earned a rebuke from Stewards for his actions.
Eskimo Prince went on to take out the AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes (7f) as a 1-3 favourite to complete his first season of racing.
He resumed to win the STC Canterbury Stakes (6f) from Port Fair (the sprinter – not Paul Sutherland’s stayer) with The Tempest third. Then the black was defeated … twice.
Punters received something of a shock when Eskimo Prince was pocketed and beaten in the STC Canterbury Guineas (9f 80yds).
Beaten two-and-a-quarter lengths by Strauss, Eskimo Prince could not get a clear run at any stage of the three-year-old semi classic event and came back to scale barely puffing.
Then in the STC Rosehill Stakes (8-1/2f) in September, 1964, The Prince again went down. This time Toi Port was the winner by just over a length.
Tagged “The Glass Jaw Champ”, by Sydney’s racing press, Eskimo Prince was back on his pedestal when he won the STC Rosehill Guineas (10f) a week after the Hill Stakes.
Starting 7-4 favourite, Eskimo Prince scored by five lengths from Strauss with Royal Sovereign a half length away third.
His first unplaced run came at his next start when the brilliant colt failed to run out the distance of the AJC Derby (1-1/2m) and finished seventh behind Royal Sovereign, Strauss and Park Lane.
A third in the Henry Kendall Hcp (6f) in March opened the colt’s 1965 campaign.
Beaten three-quarters of a length and a short half head by Cele’s Image and Strauss, Eskimo Prince then came out to win the AJC C. W. Cropper Hcp (6f) at his next start.
The black won a Flying Hcp (6f) at Warwick Farm before heading north to finish 19th behind Winfreux, Harmonize and Persian King in the QTC Stradbroke Hcp (7f) at Eagle Farm.
Allowed to potter around the stables for the next two months, Eskimo Prince was slightly underdone when beaten three-quarters of a length by Gay Gauntlet in the AJC Warwick Stakes at his first four-year-old start.
Eskimo Prince won his final race, the Hill Stakes (8-1/2f), on September 15, 1965 from Le Filou and Strauss before finishing his racing career with two unplaced efforts.
Trained by Cec Rolls until his unplaced run in the AJC Derby, Eskimo Prince finished his racing days with Fil Allotta.
Sold to American Rex Ellsworth, along with 20 broodmares, Eskimo Prince was shipped to USA where he received limited opportunities.
The son of Todman finished his stud career siring quarter horses in Oklahoma and was humanely destroyed after being struck down by arthritis.
When Kelso Wood moved across to Harry Plant’s stables, pride-of-place was held by a chestnut gelding with a pronounced parrot mouth.
“Time and Tide was a three-year-old when I arrived,” remembered Wood.
“He was a very good horse but the stable wouldn’t compare him with his older brother, Fine and Dandy,” he proffered.
“Fine and Dandy was always a better horse than was Time and Tide.”
Wood did not ride Time and Tide in a race, however, he knew just how good the gelding was after piloting the chestnut in trackwork a couple of occasions.
Time and Tide (ch g 1960, Star Kingdom (Ire)-Shading, by Brueghel) was a full-brother to Fine and Dandy.
Between them the brothers won 35 races including the AJC Doncaster (thrice), STC Golden Slipper (twice) and several other top sprint races.
In all Time and Tide started 45 times recording 20 wins, four seconds, six thirds and 15 unplaced runs for $98,115 prizemoney.
As a two-year-old he won the AJC Canonbury Stakes, VATC Debutant Stakes, and AJC Two-Year-Old Hcp before taking on older horses and winning the AJC Randwick Flying Hcp (6f) from Prince Regoli and Noble Star on a dead track in 1.11.4 after starting 2-1 favourite.
The chestnut gelding then finished fourth on an unsuitable heavy track behind Pago Pago in the postponed Golden Slipper of 1963.
However, Time and Tide surprised many racegoers who thought of him as a speedy squib when he came out and won the AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes (7f) from Sunset Hue and Heirloom before winning the AJC Champagne Stakes (6f) from Ripa and Rosie Sun during the AJC Easter Carnival.
Time and Tide was a hardy customer racing from two to six years.
His good class wins were recorded in the Railway Quality (7f), now the George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill, which he won in ’64 and ’67; the Theo Marks Quality (7f) a race Time and Tide took out in 1963, 65 and 66; VATC Caulfield Guineas (1963); QTC E.E.D. White Lightning Hcp (1964); AJC Challenge Stakes (1965); VATC Oakleigh Plate (1965); and the AJC Waratah Hcp (1966).
Perhaps his best win was recorded over the testing Randwick mile when, from an outside barrier, Time and Tide, with Des Lake in the saddle, lumped 59kg to defeat Our Fun and Ripa in the AJC Doncaster Hcp.
Starting 6-4 favourite, despite his awkward draw, Time and Tide quickly raced to the lead and with Lake rating his mount to perfection the gelding held off the fast finishing Our Fun to score by a neck.
Again on a soft track which wasn’t entirely to the liking of Time and Tide, the gelding ran a good time winning the Doncaster in 1.37 from a field of 19.
After 12 months with Plant, Kelso Wood completed his apprenticeship.
Increasing weight, forever the scourge of jockeys, dealt Wood a poor lot and Kelso was forced to retire from the saddle.
“I stayed on with Harry for six months as stable foreman,” he mused. “Then I gave racing away”.
Wood returned to Brisbane and drove a taxi for a living.
“I got heavy and became sick of racing. You go through these periods. You’re disheartened.”
After only three months outside racing, Kelso Wood was keen to take up the reins of his riding career.
“I went out west”, he says laconically.
Wood linked up with the father of present day Gold Coast trainer John Wallace.
“We were based in Toowoomba but I did most of my riding around Dalby,” said Kelso.
“I stayed out there for a couple of years and then I went back to Sydney.”
Back in the NSW capital Kelso Wood worked with Harry Myers breaking in horses.
When Myers retired, Kelso stayed on with Max Crocket who is now associated with millionaire owner Lloyd Foyster.
Again Wood looked certain to return to Brisbane.
He went around to the home of Neville Voigt to say goodbye.
Voigt, now training at Randwick, informed Wood that Harry Plant needed a stable foreman and suggested the former Brisbane apprentice might apply for the job. Kelso was a bit hesitant. Fortunately for him Neville Voigt wasn’t.
“Neville went to see Harry and the trainer rang me at home,” remembered Kelso. “I finished up going back to Harry and was his foreman for the last six years he was training,” said Wood recalling an important part of his past. “Harry never had a real lot then,” he continued. “We had a good bit of luck with what we did have though.”
Constant Rhythm, Lilting and Slippery kept the pot boiling for Plant and Wood.
Lilting went on to prove her worth as a broodmare foaling Planet Kingdom, while Slippery was the last foal of Shading, the dam of Fine and Dandy and Time and Tide.
“We only had a small team of horses and Harry had moved from Prince Street down to Doncaster Avenue,” explained Kelso. “He only had 11 boxes there and rarely had more than six horses in work.”
When Plant retired Kelso took out a trainer’s licence.
At the same time he continued breaking in horses and attending to their teeth for fellow trainers.
The first horse in the stables of Kelso Wood was Floodlight.
“A former client of Harry’s, Jim Barnes, a pastoralist at Booroowa who had been involved in racing all his life gave me Floodlight. We didn’t do any good with it though,” Kelso recalled.
The first galloper Wood had in his stables which showed ability was Arabian Girl.
“Originally she was a buckjumper,” he explained. “Her first trainer gave her up, but I got her going and she won four races on end including a fillies and mares event at Warwick Farm.
“At the time she won over $40,000 prizemoney which was good money,” continued Kelso acknowledging the start he received from Arabian Girl.
The walls of Wood’s office in his Brisbane home are lined with photographs of his race winners. Four photos of Arabian Girl are featured on one wall.
“That’s a young Malcolm Johnston winning on her there.” He said indicating one of the portraits.
Without a doubt the best galloper trained by Kelso Wood was High Classic, now installed as a sire at Grafton NSW.
“He won two Ramornies,” said a smiling Kelso Wood. “I took him to Grafton three times.”
Wood made the trip in 1980, 81 and 1982.
“The first time it was something of a thrill,” Kelso detailed. “It was my first attempt at a carnival success. We’d won at Rosehill before heading to Grafton.”
The connections of High Classic attended the Calcutta on Ramornie eve.
They weren’t feeling too fit when High Classic (b h Imagele – Garland for Judy) was flattened shortly after the start of the 1200m feature race.
“The horse recovered quickly and was climbing over their backs as the field turned for home,” Kelso remembered. “He won the race in 1:08.7 which still stands as a record for the race.”
High Classic broke Mistress Anne’s course record in winning the 1980 Ramornie Hcp defeating Goreham into second placing. Connections decided to tackle the 1981 Ramornie with High Classic but struck a top field of sprinters.
Razor Sharp, Bemboka Yacht and other outstanding gallopers lined up in the race with High Classic finishing a close-up fifth.
Next year luck went with High Classic and the bay, ridden by Peter Cook, again proved victorious.
In all, from a career of just over 60 starts, High Classic recorded 13 wins and 11 placings for over $100,000 prizemoney.
The son of Imagele won at Rosehill, Grafton, Randwick and Warwick Farm during his career.
From 20 starts Imagele (ch h 1970), Sostenuto (Ity) – Cele’s Image) recorded 11 wins and five placings including the AJC Hobartville Stakes, STC Canterbury Guineas, Rosehill Guineas and AJC Derby in a memorable streak of four wins in the autumn of 1973.
Wood purchased High Classic after being approached at the races when another of his charges, Chato Slipper, moved one racegoer to comment on the galloper’s condition.
“That horse looks so well I thought I’d like to meet you,” the racegoer said.
Further discussions led to the racegoer suggesting that Wood might purchase a horse for him.
Wood secured High Classic in the sales ring for $5250 and received the surprise of his career when he was presented with a one-third share in the colt when the owner registered the son of Imagele with the AJC.
To date, High Classic is the best horse to pass through the Kelso Wood stables. However, since moving to Brisbane the energetic trainer has strengthened his string.
“I could see the potential in Brisbane when I came up with High Classic,” Kelso suggested.
The retirement of trainer Len Ryan enabled Wood to secure housing and stable accommodation in the heart of Hendra.
Lord Rhys (4 wins), Herbacious (3 wins), Vaminos (4 wins), Banjax, Plausable and Daytona are some of the Kelso Wood winners in Brisbane.
The trainer predicts a big future for Herbacious, a Winter Carnival winner over the good Melbourne performer Toyed.
“Horses which win at Carnival time in Brisbane are doing quite well,” observed Kelso. “It’s tough competition.”
Wood continued: “Racing here in Queensland is going ahead in leaps and bounds.
“The quality of horse is gradually improving and the level of prizemoney has improved tremendously.”
Kelso Wood has 18 horses in work in his Brisbane stables at present.
Making Time, Lord Rhys and a two-year-old registered to race as Best Foot Forward are expected to show to advantage during their next preparation.
“I’ve got a lot of nicely-bred young horses here, but I’ll be going to the Sydney and Gold Coast Yearling Sales,” Kelso said adding that he would endeavour to upgrade the quality of his racing stock continually.
A forthright speaker and a man confident of his ability to produce winners, Kelso Wood has settled nicely into Brisbane racing…….and perhaps this time he’s home to stay.
Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s the second and final montage of photos from Eagle Farm last Saturday. On www.sydneyracing.com.au there’s the story on the passing at age 88 of a woman whose father hid Phar Lap from snipers before his famous Melbourne Cup win, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au Matt Nicholls looks at Victorian racing.