The Maryland racing community lost one of its most prominent members when award-winning journalist and racing historian Joseph B. Kelly passed away Monday at Stella Maris Rehabilitation and Hospice after a short battle with cancer. He was 94 years old.
A lifelong resident of Baltimore, Joe Kelly covered horse racing for nearly 70 years.
He began his career at The Baltimore Sun in the 1940s then moved to the now-defunct Washington Star in 1955 where he spent the next 26 years covering racing. He won a national honor from the Thoroughbred Racing Association for a story about 1968 Kentucky Derby winner Dancer’s Image, a Maryland bred and the only Derby winner to be disqualified from the top spot because of a medication violation discovered in a post-race test.
Kelly is also the only two-time winner of Pimlico’s Old Hilltop Award for excellence in horse racing coverage, winning in 1979 and 2000.
“He is a true representative of the greatest generation and always someone you could turn to for historical information,” Pimlico and Laurel Park announcer Dave Rodman said. “He was eager to share stories about Maryland racing, especially the Preakness. Nobody loved Pimlico more than Mr. Kelly, who continued to drive to the track almost every day. Coming to the races kept him very sharp. He loved to talk about the horses and handicap the races.”
On Oct. 30, 1947 he was part of Baltimore’s first live remote television broadcast on WMAR-TV, when Kelly called the fifth and sixth races at Pimlico with his then colleague Jim McKay.
After retiring from the newspaper business, Kelly worked as a track publicist at Laurel Park, became the founding publicity director for the Maryland Million in 1986 and was Pimlico Race Course’s historical consultant until his death.
“He truly was racing’s man for the ages and a real gentleman in the mold that exists no more,” added former Pimlico and Laurel Park owner Karin De Francis.
Kelly’s funeral will be held at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in downtown Baltimore at 11 a.m. Friday morning with a visitation period beginning at 9:30.