SIDNEY — Jack Kelley passed up the 90-minute drive to Scarborough in the rain and the draw for post position for Sunday’s big race at Scarborough Downs. “If I could help or bring any luck, I’d be there,” he said.

Over a blessed life of 84 years, he wonders if all his good fortune already has been used. Not likely. Later on Thursday, he learned that his 3-year-old colt, Thenor’easterbeast, will start away from the rail in the third gate in the Maine Standardbred Breeders Stakes pace. A favorable position for a favorite.

From his stall at the Sidney Training Center, Thenor’easterbeast gazed unblinking, the picture of serenity. Kelley’s stomach will turn into a giant knot Sunday afternoon. His trainer, Dave Crochere, seemed a wee bit anxious, wondering if my appearance would bring bad luck or good to his stable.
Thenor’easterbeast tossed his head gently.

“He has a basketball in there,” said Crochere. When the colt is frisky, the ball bounces off the stall’s ceiling and walls.

“We thought about giving him a hockey stick,” said Crochere, the grin appearing. It was a nod to Thenor’easterbeast’s owner. Jack Kelley is one of the grand old men of hockey.

Can’t place the name? He was Boston University’s most valuable player more than 60 years ago. He coached at Colby from 1955 to 1962 when he was named the NCAA coach of the year, the first time that recognition went to a small college hockey coach.

He returned to Boston University to coach the Terriers for 10 seasons and back-to-back national championships in 1971-72.

Then it was on to the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association, the Detroit Red Wings and finally, the presidency of the Pittsburgh Penguins until he retired in 2001.

Don’t misunderstand. Kelley didn’t turn to harness racing to fill spare hours in retirement.

“My father would say he drove five miles out of the way of places that gave pony rides when I was a boy,” said Kelley, who grew up in Belmont, Mass. “I always loved horses. I wanted to be a jockey until I grew so big I started thinking about football.”

While at Colby, Kelley and his wife Ginny bought a pony for their oldest son, Paul. Kelley says now with a grin he was buying the horse for himself.

When the Kelley family left Colby and their farm in the Waterville area, they took 17 horses and ponies with them to Boston University and their new home in Walpole, not far from the harness racing track in Foxborough. At some point in this love affair, Kelley turned his affections from horseback to a horse and sulky.

“It’s a lot more meaningful and graceful. A horse pulling a sulky is a piece of art,” he said.

America turned away from harness racing years ago. The sport didn’t transfer well to television. It was too simple and over too quickly. It couldn’t develop the personalities sponsors or marketing types clamor for.

Harness racing is kept alive by people like Kelley and Crochere.

“The people working with the horses make all sorts of sacrifices,” said Kelley. “If they didn’t have a great deal of love for the horses, they couldn’t do it.”

For Kelley, it’s not the money.

“The rewards are in the success and the horse,” he said. “I am a competitive person. I haven’t lost that.
“The idea is to be successful and win, but not at all costs.”

He has a partnership with his daughter Nancy Saucier and her East Pond Stables in Oakland. Four of their standardbreds in the past 10 years have been stakes champions. Thenor’easterbeast was a 2-year-old champion.

The colt was born in March during a late winter snowstorm. As a 2-year-old he had size. This season he has raced 12 times, first with Shawn Gray in the sulky and more recently Gary Mosher. The two have brought home seven victories, three second places and one third.

Certainly he’ll have competition on Sunday. Pembroke Joe Black, driven by Heath Campbell, is among the seven other entries. As Kelley well knows, in sports anything can deny the prize.

“Going into the winner’s circle never gets old. It’s a thrill. It’s an excitement that’s unique.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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