You don’t have to convince Dave Kelly about Murphy’s Law - the old adage which postulates that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Two months ago Kelly, a harness trainer and catch driver lived through that nightmare. “It was terrible. It seemed like if one of my horses wasn’t sick it was sore. And if they weren’t sore they were sick,” said Kelly. “Mostly it was the latter. A virus went through a lot of barns and mine was no different." In short, nothing went right.
“It was a never ending ride,” said Kelly. One horse would get sick and I’d have to scratch it. Then another horse would get sick and I’d have to scratch that one too. “Thank God the calendar changed.” Did it ever change. Ever since the page flipped to 2018 Kelly has easily been the hottest driver at Northlands. Three weeks ago he won four races. Last weekend he did it again rolling off another quartet of wins. None of them were favourites.
“I’d never won four races on a card before,” said Kelly, 28. “Now it’s happened twice. I guess the goal now is to try and win five races on a single card.” The way Kelly is going it would by folly to dismiss that proposition. Kelly had a good feeling he was going to have a big day last Saturday.
“A friend of mine from the Maritimes, Chris McKenzie, was working at Fort McMurray and he told me he was going to be at the races this past weekend. He was bringing his girlfriend with him and he asked me if I had a shot with any of the horses I was driving because his girlfriend wanted to get a picture in the winner’s circle. “I told him I thought I could maybe win with three of them,” said Kelly, who, of course, went even one better.
Kelly’s big day started in the second race when, while driving Art The Third, he got a two-hole trip behind favoured Starface. Seemingly trapped for good when Steal The Diamonds had him locked in around the final turn and at the head of the lane. But then Starface drifted out slightly giving Kelly and Art The Third just enough room to sneak by on the inside and on to a length and a quarter victory at healthy odds of 5-1.
“Looking at the program I figured Starface was the horse to beat. I had driven Art The Third one other time and had won with him going wire to wire. So I thought if I left maybe I could get to the top again. But I wound up opening up the two-hole and it just worked out and I got room late. You have to have some luck and I got it.”
It took until the eighth race for Kelly to get his second win. Piloting Outlawburntpopcorn, Kelly wound up getting parked second over before tipping three wide down the backside. Despite the overland journey, Outlawburntpopcorn refused to wilt and marched on to a three-quarters of a length victory returning $8.80 to win. “I wanted to be ahead of the one- and two-horses because they were both long shots. But they ended up leaving harder than anybody so I just had to wait it out,” said Kelly, who competed in the regional Driving Championship two summers ago. “When I moved three wide and cleared she got brave again and did the rest for me.”
One race later Kelly was back in the winner’s circle again - this time with Wild Flight ($10.00). With the field strung out, Kelly just bided his time behind pace setter Royal Mistress, tipped out turning for home and won convincingly. “That was the one win that day that kind of surprised me because she was coming out of conditioned claimers and into a straight class. I was really just looking to put her up close, get her into the race and give her a good trip. “Bill Tainsh had the favourite and I got him boxed in for a bit and I think that’s what won me the race.”
Still Kelly wasn’t done. In the 12th and final race of the day it was all Kelly and Blue Star Cascade ($8.30) going wire-to-wire and winning by a massive nine and a half lengths. “She had raced really well the week before and that was against the boys; this time she was back in with fillies. I wanted to be forwardly placed and she got that easily. I just rated her along and she did the rest; she was awesome.”
Originally from Nova Scotia there should have been little doubt as to what Kelly was going to do for a living after he graduated from Cape Breton University with a business degree while majoring in accounting. After all, his father, David B. Kelly, a construction worker still drives and trains - including handling a horse, Elmgrove Misty, who won the richest race (a purse of $19,000) ever at Nova Scotia’s Northside Downs last year. Furthermore, both of his grandfathers drove, he has three uncles that were into harness racing and his younger brother, Colin, 24, races in Ontario where he won 123 races last year.
And, if that isn’t enough, Kelly’s cousin Ryan Campbell is also a trainer and driver. “Colin and I started at a very early age. Both of us were jogging horses when we were just six or seven-years-old. As soon as we were able to reach the cross bar we’d get thrown on the bike and have some fun.”
Yet, it wasn’t all that cut and dried and it still took somewhat of a circuitous path to get Kelly into harness racing on a full time basis. “While I was at University, I catch drove some horses in Cape Breton. But it was just a hobby then. “Beginning in 2009 I came out to Alberta to work in the oil field during the summers to help pay for my university schooling but when the industry slowed down there weren’t a lot of jobs left and I got laid off while working at Redwater, Alberta where I was a pipe fitter.”
That was when Kelly got the call that would change his life. “Greg Manning, whom I had met through my cousin, Ryan, when he was racing here, called me in October of 2015 and said that Cathy Reid and her Riverside stable was looking for someone to train her horses. I didn’t have anything else at the time so I said sure,” said Kelly. “I always loved harness racing. But until I got the phone call from Greg it was always just as a hobby.
“Being around horses was never like a job; it never felt like work so I thought why not? And I also had one horse at the time. “If I hadn’t gotten laid off I might still be a pipe fitter but this was a chance to do what I always loved. I’m really glad I made the decision did,” said Kelly, who, through Manning, had also become good friends with Phil Giesbrecht, Northlands leading driver.
“Phil was going out with one of Gerry Hudon’s daughters, Jocelyn, and Gerry’s farm is only about 15 minutes away from Redwater. “I used to go to Gerry’s farm all the time which is where I had the one horse I owned stabled. “I worked nights at Redwater; I’d finish work at 6 a.m. and head over to Gerry’s farm. When I was done there I’d go back to Redwater get some sleep and go back to work. “Then I’d do it all again the next day. So, while working with the horses was just a hobby at the time, it was also well embedded in my blood.”
A year and a half ago, Kelly decided to take the next step: he left Riverside and went out on his own. Now with a stable of just six horses, Kelly is looking to add on a few more. “With Mike Dicks, I just bought a four-year-old maiden out of Pennsylvania named Anywhereanytime. He’s a son of Somebeachsomewhere and out of the mare Los Angeles which makes him a half brother to Thinkingoutloud, who won the U.S. Pacing Championship in 1:47 2/5 and won just under $2 million.” Anywhereanytime’s family also includes LA Delight, who won $1.6 million and paced in 1:49 1/5, and Somewhere in LA, who won $1.3 million and paced in 1:48 4/5.
“Thinkingoutloud didn’t get good until he was four-years-old too. Hopefully Anywhereanytime will find that breeding himself. He’s got some size to him so we’re hoping. “Everything is working out well this year. I’m happy with where I’m at and just looking at this Saturday’s program I should have another good day.”
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