As executive director of The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation,...

As executive director of The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation, Nancy Kelly organized events that raised millions for those tied to the industry who were in need. Credit: The Jockey Club /Skip Dickstein

Nancy Kelly was about to receive the prestigious Eddie Arcaro Award in recognition of her exceptional commitment to jockeys and The Jockeys' Guild after helping a lot of injured or disabled riders. But the introduction got to be a bit much for a humble woman.

“They’re introducing her and talking about all the good work she did,” Bob Curran, the former vice president of corporate communications for The Jockey Club, said, flashing back to the 2014 Guild dinner in Hollywood, Florida. “She said, ‘You’re making me sound like Mother Teresa. I’m only doing my job.’

“But, of course, she was doing much more than her job because she had great compassion for anyone less fortunate than she.”

Kelly died Feb. 9 from ovarian cancer after leaving a big mark on thoroughbred racing through her caring heart. She was 71.

The retired New Hyde Park native and Westbury resident had worked tirelessly via her position as the executive director of The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation to organize events that raised millions for those tied to the industry who were in need. She also raised funds as the vice president of development for the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation for horses.

“That word ‘humanitarian’ kind of jumps out,” said Curran, a West Islip resident who worked with Kelly for 30 of her 32 years in The Jockey Club’s Manhattan office before they both retired at the end of 2017.

“She wanted to help other people, especially with the role with The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation. That helped a lot of needy people in the backstretch community.”

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And she was the perfect person for the job.

Her friend Shannon Kelly can attest to that.

The Carle Place resident, who was no relation, worked alongside Nancy Kelly with the Safety Net Foundation and succeeded her as executive director.

“She was just generally a very kind, happy, smiling person,” Shannon Kelly said. “And so I think from a fundraising perspective, she was just a natural. When she cared about something, she just cared about it fully.

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“The Safety Net Foundation assists people in need all over the country in horse racing. So they can work in all jobs. … In times of crisis, many don’t have other places to turn. And she was so involved in every case. They called her directly. She read their file, beginning to end. She really thought about how she could help them and was in constant contact with them.

“Her hands were on everything, from the fundraising part of getting the money we could give out to people to actually distributing the grants. So she was very involved in their stories and their growth and making sure they healed from whatever they were sick with. It was really personal for her. And she really grew the foundation to what it is today, which is very expansive.”

Nancy Kelly spent eight years with the New York Racing Association before joining The Jockey Club, the breed registry for thoroughbreds in North America, as an executive assistant in 1985.

She became executive director of the Safety Net Foundation in 1999 and vice president of development for the equine medical research foundation in 2002.

“She just genuinely loved horses,” said her niece Lisa Locurto, of Centereach. “She worked in the racing industry since I was a baby. Just seeing her through the years, the joy that the race track brought her, the people brought her, Saratoga especially brought her, it was just amazing. She was just an inspiration to a lot of people and to her family.”

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After Kelly retired, she volunteered with the New York Race Track Chaplaincy, becoming president. But her illness led to her quickly shift to vice president. She was also a member of the board.

“It was something that kept her going,” Locurto said.

Kelly was predeceased by her husband, Jack Kelly. She’s survived by her sister, Fran Dtugokenski, brother-in-law Ray Dtugokenski, two nieces, Locurto and Michelle Mirabile, four grandnieces and two grandnephews.

Kelly’s funeral Mass was held Monday at St. Brigid Catholic Church in Westbury.

“We knew her job, but the amount of people that she’s actually touched is totally overwhelming,” Locurto said. “She has touched so many people.”

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