I e-mailed old friend Steve Davidowitz, not giving him the chance to hang up on me. Mention of the Kelco took Davidowitz back to his days as editor of Turf and Sport Digest. "I had the opportunity to evaluate (the Kelco) because they were advertising in Turf and Sport," Davidowitz said. "Basically, it was built on a formula that measured purses earned per start. The higher the average purse per the most recent three or four starts, the higher the Kelco Class Rating. This did not help horses shipping from smaller circuits to New York, or even from Charlestown to Keystone, and it did not help identify multiple claiming race race winners when they were meeting habitual second- and third-place finishers (proven losers) in entry-level allowance races."
The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were a time when handicapping gizmo's, as Davidowitz calls them, were in full flower. You could spend between $15 and $100 for a dingus (as Sam Spade would have called them) like the Kelco, which once sold for $25. At the high end was the Harvard Concentric Selector, whose inventors said was the "ultimate weapon in man's continuing battle to beat the horses." I wonder whether Harvard knew, or cared, whether any of this was going on.
One of the Kelco's boasts was that its system was "conceived and designed by a graduate of Yale and (italic mine) Brown Universities with advanced degrees in engineering." Uh-huh. I called Brown to ask if they had ever heard of the Kelco, and they hung up on me.
I remember going to Saratoga once with a friend, Malcolm Barr, who had a Kelco. It was the cardboard slide-rule variety.
"I had that one for a couple of years," Barr said, "then I graduated to the hand-held device. To the consternation of Bill Joyce, my partner in the racing and breeding business for 21 years, I was generally more successful betting the races than he was. But I dropped the hand-held on the grandstand floor and it broke."
In his closet, Barr found a computer called the Premier II Thoroughbred Horse Race Analyzer, marketed by Advanced Handicapping Technologies Inc. (Mattel). "There it was, in a green velvet pouch," he said. He thinks he bought it in 1983 and plans to use it again this summer at Saratoga.
But still, no Kelco. Phil Jackson, a retired computer programmer, has a friend, a retired insurance adjuster in Michigan, who had a slide-rule Kelco years ago. The friend's dog, Spunky, chewed it up one day, beyond repair. The family still loved Spunky, but things were never quite the same.
Jackson would like to work out the internal formulas of the Kelco. "I specifically need the thoroughbred Kelco," he said. "I located a Kelco for the trotters, but it seems clear that it uses a different formula than the thoroughbred version."
A retired Eddie Arcaro toured the country as a promoter of the Kelco. I remember spending an evening with him in the dining room at Fairmount Park. Arcaro played it smart. He talked more about all the big races he had won rather than the calculator. "The Kelco," said somebody who bought one, "was a handicapping tool for anyone who thought Damascus was a city in the Middle East. But what the hell, if I hadn't bought a Kelco, I wouldn't have gotten hooked on horses. And there's nothing wrong with that."