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Legendary harness driver Kelly passes at age 85

Harold Kelly, 85, a harness racing driver who was a fixture at Freehold Raceway for a half-century, died on Oct. 19.

According to an obituary posted online by the Higgins Memorial Home, Freehold Borough, Kelly was raised on a farm in western Pennsylvania and always had a passion for horses. He began his professional driving career in 1951, with his first drive coming at the age of 16 on a small track in Ohio.

He raced at tracks in western Pennsylvania and in Ohio before moving to New Jersey in 1955.

During a career that spanned more than 60 years as a driver and trainer, Kelly worked with many of the sport’s finest drivers and horsemen, including Stanley Dancer and Joe Holloway.

Kelly had the opportunity to drive many outstanding horses during his career, including his all-time favorite, State Time, who raced for 13 years, winning 24 races while banking $216,914 in purses. Kelly also trained State Time.

Among his many achievements, Kelly was inducted into the Jersey Shore Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.

According to information posted on harnessracing.com, Kelly drove more than 4,500 winners with $19.3 million in purses in his career.

Kelly was at or near the top of the drivers’ standings at Freehold Raceway from the mid-1950s through the mid-1990s. He won his first of several driving titles at the venerable harness track in 1960.

Kelly’s best season for winners was 1987 when he collected 292. His best year for earnings came in 1988 when he drove horses that won $1.96 million, according to harnessracing.com

Kelly’s best streak came in the late 1980s when Dancer asked him to drive for his stable. The duo combined to win several rich and prestigious races, including the $863,250 Sweetheart final with Concertina at the Meadowlands in 1988.

“I’ve driven a lot of nice horses over the years, but the best one would have to be Concertina,” Kelly said in a story that was published by the U.S. Trotting Association in 2002, according to harnessracing.com

“I have a lot of people to thank, so many who have helped me along the way, but Stanley (Dancer) is the one who gave me my biggest break. For a few years he let me drive all of his best horses.”

In addition to the Sweetheart final, some of the major races Kelly won were the Hambletonian Oaks, the Lady Suffolk, the Lou Babic Memorial and the Molly Pitcher.

Kelly retired from driving in 2002 and Freehold Raceway, his home track for almost 50 years, honored him with Harold Kelly Day. In his later years he worked for Holloway, a Hall of Fame trainer.

Kelly is survived by his daughters Linda (Tom) Moyer and Deborah (Jeff) Tillia; four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; a brother-in-law, Paul “Art” Wells; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Susan Mason, who died in 2014.

Visitation will be held from 3-7 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Higgins Memorial Home, 20 Center St., Freehold Borough. A private graveside service will be held on Oct. 23 in Chambersburg, Pa.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Christian Harness Horsemen’s Association, Attn: Chaplain Lee Alphen, 157 N. Main St., Salem, NH 03079.

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