"AND race starter Rex Kelly steps up to the platform."

That often-repeated announcement from the commentator's box is part of what makes the veteran race starter one of the most famous name at Grafton's July Racing Carnival.

"Yes, I seem to be very popular," he said.

Mr Kelly can be found on tracks from Murwillumbah to Bowraville, his long career as a starter beginning after an accident in 1987 cut short his job as a jockey.

"I wasn't doing much after that and the committee of the Northern Rivers Racing Association asked me if I wanted to be a starter," he said.

"And that was 23 years ago."

UP TO IT: Rex Kelly signals the start of another Ramornie Handicap.
UP TO IT: Rex Kelly signals the start of another Ramornie Handicap. Tim Jarrett

Being a starter is about a lot more than just standing pressing the starting button.

The role involves overseeing the starting crew responsible for getting the horses into the gate, and working with a variety of jockeys, trainers and racing professionals to ensure a smooth start to each race.

Yesterday, Ramornie Handicap day, Mr Kelly was out at the track early in the morning, ahead of the second-most important race in the carnival.

"I love doing it. They are good people to work for, the CRJC and the committee," he said, "and I get on well with the jockeys, the trainers, the owners and all the rest."

Despite his deep passion for the job and being committed to working "until I stop loving it", Mr Kelly has been training a protege for the past 15 months.

"I have been teaching Wayne Friend to be the starter and when I'm finished he can take over," he said.

"He is going good."



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