2022 Joe Kelly Unsung Hero Award to Fran Burns

Fran Burns has been selected as the winner of the Maryland Million 2022 Joe Kelly Unsung Hero Award. Presented by the Board of Directors of Maryland Million Ltd, this award honors the memory of Joe Kelly and celebrates important characteristics that are valuable, but sometimes go overlooked.

The award is named for Joe Kelly, the first and only publicist for the Maryland Million, who served in that role from the event's inception in 1985 until his death in 2012. 

For more than a dozen years, Burns has been actively involved in both fan education about racing and in thoroughbred aftercare. A Maryland native, Burns grew up riding and showing horses in Baltimore. She took in a horse named Dustin’s Dreamer in 2008, and turned him into a top show horse. Since then, she’s assisted with fundraising programs, sponsorships, and promotion for the MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. She works for Canter for a Cause every year and quietly helps off-track thoroughbreds in need of homes.

In addition, Burns has served as head tour guide for the very popular Sunrise Tours during Preakness week and at the Maryland State Fair. She’s in charge of hiring and managing the guides, and leads a tour for kids from Arlington Elementary and Middle School every year. Special guests on this year’s tours included JoAnn Hayden, Michael Blowen, Mike Rogers, and Aidan Butler.

Burns also manages the Thoroughbred Alliance Show series page on Facebook, and was one of the co-founders of the original series. The page provides updates on horses, horse shows, and assorted thoroughbred programs.

Burns will be honored at this year’s Jim McKay Maryland Million, which will take place at Laurel Park on Oct. 22.