New Ballina Jockey Club general manager Craig Kelly.
New Ballina Jockey Club general manager Craig Kelly.

On a winner?

THE newly appointed general manager of the Ballina Jockey Club believes the biggest challenges to the longevity of the club are the economy and the weather.

Craig Kelly had his first day in the BJC office yesterday after the departure of Sarah Wills.

Coincidentally, Wills has moved to Scone, which is where Kelly originally hails from.

“The general spending across the retail sector is down,” Kelly said.

“That will certainly make the job hard but I am excited at the challenge.

“The other thing is the weather and there's not much I can do about that.”

Ballina has lost almost a dozen race meetings due to wet weather over the past 12 months.

However, Kelly is full of energy as the club prepares for its busiest few months that includes a number of community race days and the Ballina Cup, which will be staged on September 8.

Kelly, 45, was born and raised at Scone, in the heart of Australia's thoroughbred breeding nursery where his late father, Col Kelly, owned and trained race horses.

“We lived just down the road from the old White Park track and Dad always had a couple of horses,” Kelly said.

“There were no champions but he won a Tamworth Cup some years ago.

“I owned one horse but unfortunately it did nothing to brag about.”

Apart from his racing background, Kelly has experience in the finance and the liquor industries.

After leaving school he joined the National Australia Bank and worked in Newcastle, playing rugby league with Wests and rugby union with Hamilton.

He later managed several hotels in Newcastle before moving north to manage hotels in Brisbane and later in Murwillumbah.

Ten years ago he moved to Ballina and managed the Westower Tavern at West Ballina and the Pioneer Tavern at Wollongbar.

The chairman of the BJC, Robert Pitt, said finding Wills' replacement had been difficult.

“We had quite a lot of applications but we were lucky that Craig fills the bill in so many categories,” he said.

“We're delighted to have Craig. He has the added qualification that he is already a member of our club.

“Sarah leaves with our thanks and best wishes.”

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