‘I’ll Be Cheering For Him’: CDI Chairman Bred One Of Land Rover's 'Very Unique' Four-Star OTTBs - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

‘I’ll Be Cheering For Him’: CDI Chairman Bred One Of Land Rover’s ‘Very Unique’ Four-Star OTTBs

Rider Erin Kanara and OTTB Campground pose with owner Marnie Kelly. Campground was bred by CDI chairman Alex Rankin

About a year ago, Churchill Downs' chairman of the board Alex Rankin was checking up on a group of Thoroughbreds he and partner Louis Wright had bred and later rehomed away from the racetrack. Much to his surprise, one of those horses was finding success near the top levels of a different sport: three-day eventing.

“Campground” had been victorious in the 2019 Ocala Jockey Club International CCI4*-L under professional rider Erin Kanara, and placed fourth in the 2020 Tryon International 3-Day Event CCI4*-S. This weekend, Campground will take on the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event's CCI4*-S competition at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. 

“I'll be cheering for him, for sure,” Rankin said. “I talked to Louis right away, told him about him when I checked on the horses… This was sort of before the wave of repurposing in this country really began, and he's been able to distinguish himself in other ways off the track. At the end of the day, when you see one finding another career, it's really satisfying.”

What's most impressive, however, is that Campground has the kind of personality that allows him to compete both at a high level with professional Erin Kanara, and also to compete at the lower levels with his owner and “second mom,” Marnie Kelly.

“It's very unique, and I can't say that I've seen that ability in any other horse,” Kanara said. “He's very, very smart, and he loves to go around with her at the lower levels. At the last event she did with him there was a costume contest going on; he let her dress him as a bee and she was a beekeeper.”

“He's been just spectacular, really exciting to watch,” Kelly echoed. “He loves having two mommies, both love him, but both are different things to him. He's got two people vying for his attention all the time!”

Owner Marnie Kelly and Campground

Campground comes by his athleticism naturally. His great-granddam, Classy Cathy (Private Account), won the Grade 1 Ashland, G1 Alabama, and G1 Gazelle for owner Ed Cox, Jr. and trainer Shug McGaughey. 

Rankin and Wright purchased Classy Cathy's daughter, Cathy's Gal (Easy Goer), for their broodmare band at Upson Downs in Prospect, Ky., following an on-track career which saw her win one race. The best of the broodmare's offspring was Kneel, by Pulpit, who earned just shy of $100,000 with three wins from 16 starts.

Kneel, in turn, produced Campground from a mating to Forest Camp (Deputy Minister). Kneel would later produce a multiple winner with earnings of $228,587, Jubilant Vision, but Campground wasn't destined for similar success on the racetrack.

“He was a little bit of a gangly, immature kind of colt,” Rankin recalled. “We felt like he was more of a racing prospect than a sales prospect, but he just couldn't run! We sent him up to High Pointe (training center) and got him started. The guy called and said he didn't want to waste our money, and didn't think he'd make a racehorse.”

Campground was sent to Sloane Charlton-Hord for rehoming as a 3-year-old.

Around that same time, Kelly's first Thoroughbred suffered a pasture accident and had to be euthanized. It was just before the 2010 World Equestrian Games, which Kelly planned to attend.

“The night before I left for WEG, I realized I was going to Kentucky where the best Thoroughbreds in the world are from,” Kelly said. “I hopped on the internet and tried to make appointments to go see some horses.”

Kelly came across Campground, known around the barn as “Gideon,” and was able to work out her schedule to meet the gelding.

“He was only three at the time, but when I took a look at him there was just a special connection there,” Kelly remembered. “He had such curious instincts. Sloane just kind of put him over a little jump on a lead line to see what he'd do, and the first time he didn't see it and knocked it over! He didn't get scared, he went back curious and interested, then stepped over it himself. He was smart and handsome, too.”

Her coach, Kanara, watched the videos of Campground when Kelly returned home to Pennsylvania.

“Marnie had sort of limited riding experience, so I liked him and another mare, but she really loved him,” Kanara said. “It was a real testament to his temperament that as a 3-year-old she tried him in a small indoor arena at night. He was relatively balanced and he has a very in your pocket personality, especially with her since day one. Still, he was a very gangly 3-year-old, kind of an awkward, leggy horse, and it took a while for his shoulder to develop and mature and meet his hind end.

“Actually, I remember him arriving at our farm in the middle of the night after she bought him. He got off the truck, and had a little hesitation stepping into the barn. He used to be a little funny about changes in footing, and it was going from pavement into a lighter concrete. I was thinking, 'I'm not sure this horse is gonna be brave enough,' but he totally was. Once he figured it out, everything about jumping came totally naturally to him.”

It took time to get Campground moving toward the upper levels, but with both Kanara and Kelly riding him regularly the gelding steadily progressed.

“I can't ride very often, only once or twice a week, so I asked Erin to please train him a level above me so when I go out I can just have fun and be nice and safe,” Kelly, who has two children with varied non-horsey interests, explained. “Well, he went way above me.”

“Going cross country he gave me a superb feeling right from the start,” Kanara said. “He wanted to look for the fences and look for the combinations, and it was just very natural for him. Once I had him going training/prelim, I knew there was certainly an upper level horse in there.”

Kanara (nee Sylvester) has plenty of experience at the sport's highest levels. She partnered with Thoroughbred Paddy the Caddy to finish 19th in the Kentucky Three-Day Event's CCI5*L in 2019, and won a pair of CCI4*-L events with him as well. Another Thoroughbred, Mettraise, carried Kanara to a 14th-place finish at the Kentucky Three-Day Event's highest level in 2017.

“I don't necessarily seek out Thoroughbreds, but I like a forward type of horse that can really gallop and jump a big jump,” Kanara said. “Thoroughbreds are perfect for that.”

“He doesn't even have to think about his job out there (on cross country); never in his life has he had a refusal or a fall,” echoed Kelly, who first fell in love with Thoroughbreds when working to start babies at Maui Meadow Farm in Pennsylvania. “He's just a pro, and all I'm ever going to have is a Thoroughbred.”

Campground first competed at the FEI level in 2014, and by 2017 he'd moved up to the second-highest level in the sport of eventing. He had some time off from an injury in 2018, but returned a year later to win the Ocala Jockey Club International CCI4*-L.

Campground won the 2019 Ocala Jockey Club International CCI4*-L

“I wasn't there when he won the Ocala event as a Thoroughbred, which I thought was so cool, but this time (Kentucky) I can be there,” said Kelly. “He had some down time with COVID, and Erin had a baby, but he's come back tremendously; he's just in his element. He feels important, like, 'Everyone's paying attention to me!' He wants to do his job so well.”

“Dressage is his toughest phase,” Kanara admitted. “He tries so hard for me, but he's a little bit of a croup-high horse with a slightly long back, so the collection and elevation needed at the 4-star level is a little bit difficult for him. He really tries to listen, though. In a relaxed mindset, he can do a decent test.”

Kanara and Kelly plan to aim Campground for a 5-star debut this fall at the Maryland Five-Star, if all goes according to plan.

“Our goal has always been to get him to the 5-star level, and he's been going well this year so far,” said Kanara. “If we have a good go this weekend we'll dial it back for a few months, focus on dressage and show jumping, then gear him back up for the fall.”

“Then next year, after the kids have graduated, he'll be all mine again!” Kelly said, laughing.

Erin Kanara and Campground will perform their dressage test on Friday, April 28, at 8:14 A.M.

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