Trainer Pat Kelly, a stalwart on the New York racing circuit for more than 40 years and a tireless supporter of the backstretch workers and the horses, has been named the NYTHA “EquiStar” for 2018. The EquiStar Award was created by the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association in 2016 to recognize an individual or organization that, through compassion, hard work and generosity, enrich the New York Thoroughbred industry.
Kelly will receive the award in a ceremony at the annual NYTHA PAC Golf Tournament at Rockville Links in Rockville Centre, N.Y., on Tuesday, Sept. 25.
“There are few people on the New York backstretch who have earned the universal love and respect of the racetrack community,” NYTHA executive director Andy Belfiore said. “Pat Kelly is one of them. He is never shy about voicing his opinion, especially when defending the industry and the members of his racing family, but he is also incredibly kind and incredibly generous in giving of his time and energy.”
“Pat Kelly is a wonderful person who puts so many people before himself,” added NYTHA vice president Tina Bond. “I can't think of a better candidate for this award.”
A lifelong racetracker, Kelly is the son of the late Hall of Fame horseman T.J. Kelly. He grew up on the backstretch, developing a deep regard for the people who care for the horses. The veteran trainer has shown his appreciation as an outspoken advocate for the entire racing community, from the owners and trainers to the grooms and hotwalkers. He joined the NYTHA Board more than 25 years ago, serving for many years as vice president, and is now an alternate on the Board. He also sits on the Boards of the New York Backstretch Employees Pension Plan, the New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund and the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program. When asked once how he finds the time, he answered, “You can always find time for the important things.”
Kelly celebrated his 40th season at Saratoga this year. While the game has weathered significant change in four decades, the trainer's dedication to the industry and its people remain a constant.
Chaplain Humberto Chavez, himself the winner of the NYTHA EquiStar Award last year, remarked, “Leaders stand out by the nature of their commitment. Pat Kelly's ongoing commitment has been witnessed by me and his fellow horsemen throughout the years. What a great honor!”
Of course, for Kelly, accolades are not what it's all about.
“It's a real community back here, our own little world, and we have to take care of our people,” Kelly said. “It's important for the workers to know that their efforts are recognized and rewarded.
“That's the mission for NYTHA,” he added. “We used to be the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, and the key word is still benevolence. We're here to help the people, and we are so thankful to the horsemen who give us the means to be able to offer all these wonderful programs.”
Kelly is the Chair of the NYTHA Benevolence Committee, which offers a helping hand to backstretch workers in need. He sits on six committees altogether, including Backstretch and Safety, Scholarship and Aftercare.
“The retirement programs for the horses are so important,” Kelly said. “They are a big plus for everyone, for the horses and also for the horsemen. I think it gives owners comfort, knowing the horses don't just disappear when their racing careers are over. And it really is all about the horses, for all of us.“
Kelly has enjoyed great success in his career. The early '90s were highlighted by the victories of Live Oak duo Solar Splendor and his year-younger brother Sultry Song, who collectively captured six Grade I races and earned more than $3 million. Grade I winner Christiecat and graded-stakes winners Binary Light, Jaded Dancer, Token Dance and Wortheroatsingold were also in the Kelly barn at the time. In September of 1992, Solar Splendor led every step of the way in the GI Man o'War S., and Sultry Song used identical tactics in the very next race to take the GI Woodward S.
Riskaverse and the much-loved Evening Attire came along early this century. Riskaverse, a multiple Grade I winner of $2,182,429, competed in the Breeders' Cup every year between 2002 and 2005. Evening Attire was a New York racing fixture from 2000 to 2008, earning $2,977,130. His 11 stakes wins included the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2002 and, in his very last start at the age of 10, a track-record-setting 8 ¼-length romp going a mile and a half in the Greenwood Cup at Philadelphia Park. He is enjoying retirement at Akindale Farm in Pawling, NY.
Kelly, however, is still a familiar figure on the backstretch, peddling his bike to and from Barn 23 at Saratoga.
“This is a labor of love for everybody back here who spend so much time every day doing what we do,” Kelly said. “I've worn a lot of hats back here, but that's something I really wanted to do, a way to give back to the industry that had been so good to me.”
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