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Hall of Fame Trainer T.J. Kelly Dies at 93

By Jenny Kellner | 04/19/2013 04:42 PM ET
Thomas J. Kelly
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese


Retired Hall of Fame trainer Thomas J. Kelly died Friday morning at St. Catherine’s West Rehabilitation Hospital in Hialeah, Fla., after a brief illness, according to his son, Timothy D. Kelly. He was 93.
Born in Pikesville, Md. on September 23, 1919, Kelly and his brother Eddie began working at the area racetracks while in their teens. After serving in the 4th Armored Division of the U.S. Army during World War II, in which he earned two Purple Hearts, Kelly returned to the racetrack and took out his trainer’s license in 1945. For the next 54 years, until his retirement in 1998, Kelly conditioned 65 stakes winners, including Plugged Nickle, 1980’s champion sprinter who won that year’s Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack, and Droll Role, a top performer on dirt and grass who won the 1972 Canadian International at Woodbine and the Washington, D.C. International at Laurel Park.
Kelly also won the 1961 Wood Memorial with Globemaster, the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park in 1975 with Salt Marsh and the 1977 and 1986 editions of the Test at Saratoga Race Course with Small Raja and Storm and Sunshine, respectively.
Other top horses trained by Kelly, who spent most of his career on the New York and Florida circuits, include Colonel Moran, Pet Bully, Noble Dancer II, Topsider, King’s Bishop, Far Out East, and Sauce Boat.
Kelly was also responsible for launching the career of famed jockey Bill Hartack, whose contract he purchased from a West Virginia trainer in 1954. The two had immediate success with the 6-year-old Pet Bully, winner of the inaugural Woodward Stakes, and Hartack, like Kelly, went on to a Hall of Fame career.
“He was a quintessential horseman who lived for the game,” said Timothy Kelly, who followed his father into the business and currently is the Clerk of Scales at The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA). “In addition to being a great horseman, he was a great husband and a great father and grandfather.”
Kelly, who was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1993, also was successful as a breeder and owner. The year before he retired, Kelly and Joseph Grant bred Evening Attire, who during his eight-year career would win 10 graded stakes and more than $2.9 million. Trained by Kelly’s older son, Patrick, Evening Attire won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2002 as a 4-year-old and closed out his career with a victory in the 2008 Greenwood Cup Stakes at Philadelphia Park.
Kelly, who lived in Miami Springs, Fla., is survived by Frances, his wife of 67 years, his brother, John Kelly, and, in addition to Timothy and Patrick, sons Daniel and Larry, daughters Patricia and Jean Marie and many grandchildren.
A viewing will be held Monday, April 22 at the Caballero Rivero Funeral Home, 373-377 West 9th St, Hialeah, Fla. The funeral mass will be said Tuesday, Apr. 23 at 10 a.m. at the Blessed Trinity Church, 4020 Curtiss Pkwy, Miami Springs, Fla. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Backstretch Employee Service Team, Elmont, NY.