Some people run away as children to join the circus. But not the late Hall of Famer Thomas Joseph Kelly, who ran off to join the racetrack when he was 13. When he passed, eight full decades later, he left as the patriarch of one of racing’s foremost families.

Last week, T.J.’s son, Larry, also a racetrack lifer, became the new General Manager of world renowned Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown, Florida, a two-hour drive north and west of Gulfstream Park.

The appointment is proof positive that what goes around indeed comes around again.

It started with Turnpike Tom, who served as apprentice for trainer Louis Fuestel. When making the transition from hot walker to groom to trainer, it’s no guarantee that one will someday land in racing’s pantheon.

But Kelly did get a pretty good start, having learned from the man who trained the mighty Man o’ War.

Of course, Payson Park long has been the winter home of Roger Attfield, Christophe Clement, Shug McGaughey, Bill Mott, among other racing notables. And when the 59-year-old Kelly joined the Payson family last week, the Payson circle was complete.

Payson Park is widely regarded as one of the best training centers anywhere in the world. It features a turf course and safe, deep dirt track over which hoof beats are barely audible.

European-style hacking trails add to the atmosphere. It allows horses to be horses and a great way to prepare youngsters for the rigors of future racetrack life.

Tom Kelly was the first trainer to use Payson as a training center. Born in Maryland and once a regular on that circuit, Kelly was a mainstay in New York during temperate times and raced primarily at Hialeah in winter. Payson is where some of the horses went for R & R.

The Kelly men are racetrackers through and through. T.J.’s younger brother, Edward (E.I.) Kelly, trained the 1959 sprint champion, Intentionally.

Tom’s wife Frances foaled three trainers; Pat, the oldest, best remembered for his work with New York-based millionaire Evening Attire, and Tim who left the backstretch to become a New York Racing Association official.

Also in the family is a Miami policeman, Dan, and sisters Patricia and Jean.

Laz, as T.J. called him, got his trainer’s license and saddled his first winner in Florida at age 17, 11 years after growing up on the racetrack. His first memory was, at age 6, jumping the fence behind Allen Jerkens’ Elmont barn to watch the reconstruction of Belmont Park.

Larry’s first racetrack responsibility, as with most backstretch apprentices, was walking hots. He was 10. T.J. would pick him up after school and they’d head back to Belmont in time for equine dinner, around 4 p.m.

In his early teens, he worked his way up the training ladder, mostly weekends while in high school. Once a month he got a hotwalker’s check for $140. He’d start the year in a public school in New York and complete the semester in a Catholic school in Miami.

He saddled his first horse while still in high school. In Florida he’d work mornings as a swing groom and eventually became T. J.’s assistant trainer after former assistant Pat went out on his own. He worked at Hialeah before running over to start school by 9:15.

One of his more memorable training victories came early in his career. There was a football coach loved to go to Hialeah and gamble. Larry told him a story about a horse he was running that afternoon and had to leave school early. The coach went with him.

Larry doesn’t remember the name of the horse when we spoke on the phone Monday, but did recall that he was an obstreperous full brother to Stage Door Johnny, who won the Belmont Stakes for Greentree Stable in 1968.

The horse either lugged in or bore out, he did everything except act like a professional race horse. Eventually, though, Kelly figured him out and that afternoon from an outside post, the longshot won and paid $78.

It was quite a payday for the teacher who bet $500 across the board and covered the exotic pools, too. The following day, coach pulled up to the high school in a spanking new Cadillac.

Although Kelly graduated from high school in 1977, he never picked up his diploma. He had taken a few days off to attend a Led Zeppelin concert in Tampa and never made it back south for the ceremony.

It seems that the Immigration Service raided the barn looking for undocumented workers. Kelly was picked up on the way as the outfit headed back to New York.

Larry’s first stakes horse, Roving Minstrel, was purchased from Roy Sedlacek, at that time trainer for George Steinbrenner. Kelly addled his share of stakes winners to the list as a private trainer but, stabled in the same barn, he always remained his father’s assistant.

The T.J. Kelly outfit was noted for stakes winners Plugged Nickel, Colonel Moran, Droll Roll, Misty Galore and Noble Dancer.

The Kellys also developed King’s Bishop, a $72,000 Keeneland purchase for Houston Astros founder Craig F Cullinan Jr. who later sold him to Allaire du Pont’s Bohemia Stable for the unheard of price of $800,000.

The Kellys trained for many high profile owners in the day; David P. Reynolds, Charlotte Weber and Marylou Whitney among them. While living on the Whitney Farm estate in Lexington, he met neighbor Virginia Kraft Payson, the Payson Park training center founder.

In 2007, after serving as a jock’s agent for about a year and then two years as assistant trainer to Wayne Lukas after Mike Maker went out on his own, Larry started his own horse transport business in South Florida.

The business succeeded because there was a horseman behind the wheel. He moved seven national champions, including Dreaming of Anna and Big Drama, among others, and with the exception of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, he transported Gunnevera everywhere he raced since he was a baby.

When it became known that Payson’s General Manager was retiring, trainer Jason Servis heard about the opening and recommended Larry Kelly for the position.

David Cole, longtime adviser to Mrs. Payson, spoke with Kelly on the phone. They exchanged faxed proposals and shortly thereafter Cole asked Mrs. Payson if she wanted to meet Larry. Mrs. Whitney’s Lexington neighbor said: “I don’t have to meet Larry, he’s a friend of mine.”

On November 13, Larry was given the keys and the responsibility to keep some of the biggest names in the game and their multi-million dollar horseflesh healthy and happy.

There is some minor hurricane damage to attend to, roof panels that need attention and a tractor that needs some TLC. “But the immediate goal is to keep these horses happy, making sure we continue to maintain the best dirt and turf training courses available.

“We have 497 stalls on the property and we’re at about half count now. They’re coming in every day,” he said.

“Pop trained for John S. Phipps, a direct descendent of the Phipps family, but Michael Phipps started all this. He, Townsend B. Martin, C.T. Chenery and Bull Hancock came up with the money to build a training center.

“I’m here to represent Mrs. Payson in a way she would want to be represented.”

Everything Larry Kelly has learned from age six has brought him to this moment. As racetrackers say; he’s as ready as hands can make him.