By Chris Lomon
was looking to have a monster year in 2018. As it turns out, the reinsman got exactly what he was hoping for… and more.
If you were to combine the number of driving wins the native of Nova Scotia recorded from 2014-2017, you’d get a total of 272.
Last year, Kelly, now in his seventh full season in the sulky, posted 271 wins.
No wonder he’s wearing an almost perpetual smile these days.
“Things have been pretty good,” said Kelly from inside the Western Fair paddock near the end of 2018. “The horses were really good for me too. I’ve got some great trainers and I had a lot more work than normal.”
Kelly can expect the new normal to be an increased workload in 2019. And he’s just fine with that.
“I wanted to get to 500 career wins in 2018 and I was able to do that,” he offered. “I set goals and I always look to achieve them. When you go beyond them, it’s even better. Fortunately, I was able to reach that number.”
It was far from the only impressive number he posted last year.
In 1,745 starts, Kelly had 801 top-three finishes and over $1.7 million in earnings (nearly $900,000 higher than his previous best mark set in 2017). He also added a Grand River driving title to his resume.
There’s plenty for him to be proud of in terms of impressive output and performances, but the driver who launched his career with nine starts in 2012 isn’t about to get complacent.
“I’m pretty laid-back, but I’m also very competitive,” started Kelly. “You can’t get too worked up about a bad night because there’s always tomorrow. You can even apply that to a race-to-race outlook. Whether you win or lose, you don’t have much time to get too high or too low. You have to stay focused on the next drive. And that’s what I try to do. You have turn the page from one race to the other.”
The Guelph resident hopes an upcoming chapter of his career sees him competing at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
“Hopefully that opportunity comes along,” offered Kelly who came to the Ontario circuit a few years ago. “But I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of good work at Western Fair, Grand River and Flamboro. I had a lot of good horses and a lot of good stables to work for this past year. Really, I just love what I do and I always focus on improving myself.”
The stat line shows he’s working with a winning formula.
“I want to keep things rolling in the right direction and work hard,” noted Kelly. “Nothing beats the feeling of winning.”
On the night of December 29, the up-and-coming driver had six drives. Along with a trio of thirds and a fourth, he and his orange, white and black colours made two appearances in the winner’s circle.
“My grandfather (Hartigan Campbell) had blue and orange colours when he drove,” recalled Kelly. “My brother, Dave, and my dad (Dave “Crocker”) actually chose green, black and white. My cousin, Ryan – we’ve always been very close – his are orange and black. My uncle, Bobby, he gave me my first set of colours and they were orange and black, so it just kind of stuck.”
The kid from the East Coast is looking to make more than just a fashion statement whenever he’s in the sulky.
“When I first came to Ontario, it was hard to get started and I didn’t get a lot of work early on. I was working as a groom and doing a lot of paddocks. Then I got lucky and picked up a few horses. It just took off from there.”
Photo by John Watkins