WHEN starter Rex Kelly presses the button to release the WHK Ramornie Handicap field on July 13, the riders will be racing to claim a new jockey's trophy named to honour his late father, Cecil “Skeeter” Kelly.
The Clarence River Jockey Club has renamed the prestigious award for the winning rider the “Skeeter Kelly Memorial Jockey's Trophy”, to commemorate the former jockey's record four Ramornie wins in the late 1950s.
Kelly claimed the feature Grafton sprint on four occasions, twice on Trevatore in 1955 and 1956, before wins on Blue Dart in 1958 and Glanceful in 1959.
He died in a Glen Innes race fall in 1967.
A one-time professional cyclist, Kelly claimed to be a self-taught jockey and was a favourite of the Grafton crowds.
Skeeter's daughter, Therese, was just 18 months old when her father was killed, but says her family is thrilled to have the trophy named in Skeeter's honour.
“We are very proud that the club has decided to name the jockey's trophy for the Ramornie after Dad,” she said.
“It is a really nice memorial to a man that holds the record for most Ramornie wins, and I'm sure he will be watching on this year.”
Although he never managed to win a Grafton Cup, Skeeter's mounts were invariably well supported by local punters, who would parlay their Ramornie winnings into Cup day.
In 1955, Kelly partnered Travatore to an impressive six-length victory in the Ramornie Handicap and punters made the horse favourite for the Cup.
The bookies kept the money in their bags, however, with Kelly and Travatore falling a neck short of stablemate Pembroke.
Kelly holds the record for most Ramornie wins over former top jockey Billy Cook, who finished with three sprint wins.
Skeeter's son, Rex Kelly, has started the Ramornie Handicap for the past 15 years and is adamant he won't feel any different this time.
“It's a nice tribute from the club, but I don't think I'll be worrying about it much until I've got the Ramornie field out of the gates,” he said.
The naming of the local sprint trophy has not been the only legacy that Skeeter has left the racing community.
His sons, Rex and Robert, were both jockeys, and Rex's son David is a trainer on the Gold Coast.
David is a regular at the July Carnival and is hoping to bring a string of horses south again this year.
Skeeter's wife, Dawn, was also a horse trainer, and was just the second woman in Australia to be granted a trainer's licence.
When Dawn retired in 2003, her granddaughter Kellie took over the reins of the stable for a number of years, before she too gave the game away to care for her young family.
Four Ramornie Handicap wins in five years.
1955 – Trevatore 4/1 (odds)
1956 – Trevatore 1/1
1958 – Blue Dart 5/1
1959 – Glanceful 7/1
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