by Chris Lomon
Kelly Crump made the decision to go from farm to stable.
Before he joined the world of standardbred racing on a full-time scale, the man from Standard, AB, a village about a 50-mile drive east of Calgary, worked in the agriculture industry.
But when the opportunity to become a full-fledged horse trainer came his way, Crump didn’t have to field a plan to make the career move.
Racing found him.
“I kind of fell into it a couple of years ago. Dad [trainer/driver, Stephen] was getting his knees done and I was in a job transfer at the time, and the next thing you know, about a year and a half later, he said, ‘I’m out!’ so he left me a bunch of horses. That’s how I ended up getting started. I had a few owners come on and it just kind of snowballed from there. My brother Kyle phoned me about a horse, and it ended up that we bought a horse named Blue Star Mystic. That’s how he started out as an owner. He bought another one and then he got a friend involved and they bought another one… it went from me having three or four horses a year ago to having 16 in the barn right now.”
The Crump clan is no stranger to the racing game.
A connection to the sport and its stars dates back decades for the family, well before Kelly landed his first full-time job.
“We raced horses when I was a kid, probably up until I was about 20, and then we got out of it. About 2004, mom and dad, they both had full-time jobs, they wanted to get back into it a little more. They bought in on a couple and when I was working in the agriculture industry, I really got interested in the breeding side of horse racing. We ended up buying a stallion for our mares. That’s how I really started in it, studying the pedigrees and the breeding.”
Kelly posted one third from four starts in 2019 and posted one win in nine races the following year, before going all-in for the 2021 season.
It proved to be a solid rookie campaign, one that produced seven wins and 21 top-three finishes from 46 starts.
The past season, however, was even more memorable, punctuated by 48 wins and $277,412 in purse earnings, along with a .376 UTRS.
“I have to say it was a hell of a year,” Kelly said with a laugh.
One of the most significant contributors to his big year was the willingness to learn as much as he could from more seasoned horsepeople.
“I just listened. That’s the biggest thing. There are a lot of good people in this industry. Dave Kelly, Logan Gills, Ryan Grundy, Joey Ratchford… I came in knowing very little and people like them have been in it for a long, long time. They are easy to talk to and share information, which is a really helpful thing for a guy like me who is just starting out.”
There were also some welcome fatherly words of wisdom Kelly received.
A specific piece of advice has become extremely helpful in the way he manages his stable.
“One thing from dad, something that I wanted to take from him, was to give a horse a break when they need it. It was all about good horsemanship. I look at it this way, that your horses will do well for you if they are happy and healthy. You will run out of conditions because that is just the way it is, but as long as you know when to shut a horse down, to make sure they are sound and happy, that will go a long way. They aren’t machines and they deserve your respect and care. Dad shod his own horses and I do a bunch of shoeing, but there are some that require a more detailed and specialized type of care, so I get some of the other farriers to help me in those situations.”
A horse by the name of BJS Bequia has been a difference maker for Kelly.
His penchant for breeding eventually led him to the now 16-year-old son of Rocknroll Hanover—Plant A Kiss, an original $32,000 purchase (Hip No. 121) at the 2008 Harrisburg Sale.
“This is when I was still working in the agriculture industry. I was looking around the Internet and I was looking for a Somebeachsomewhere stud, but they are so hard to get. I always liked the Rocknroll Hanover line – they are purse racehorses – and I saw this stud was still racing. At that time, he had around 297 starts, and over $700,000 in earnings and he had done it all the hard way. I phoned the guy who owned him and another guy from Ontario went down to look at him. I told him, ‘Don’t buy him unless you give me a call first.’ Well, he phoned me and told me that he was already on the trailer and if I didn’t want him, he’d take him.”
Kelly decided to keep BJS Bequia, one of many smart calls he’s made so far in his young career.
It’s also a reminder of why he’s grateful to work with the horses and to compete against people he’s already developed a deep respect for.
Are there any similarities between those who work in the agriculture and racing industries?
“I think the people. In both, people are always willing to help out, and take care of one another. I suppose you could say both industries have people who are salt of the earth types. Everyone is really friendly. There is the competitive side to the racing, but that comes with any sport.”
These days, Kelly, along with a handful of other trainers based in Calgary, have made their way to Cal-Expo for their winter months.
It’s not an unfamiliar place for the trainer, albeit in a different scenario this time.
“This is my first year going by myself. I came down with mom and dad six years ago. I came down for about five or six months. They had about 10 horses here. I miss some of the help I had back in Alberta. Some of your owners are here to help you and my girlfriend helps me paddock. You do get hired help and the hired help down here is fantastic.”
Kelly is hoping that year three can be just as successful as 2022.
A trio of BJ Bequia colts, 3-year-olds Tin Can Timmy, Smokn Joe, and Shotgun Willie, have caught his attention.
“I have a lot of young stock out of my stallion. They are three now. I had a 2-year-old, Tin Can Timmy, who did really well last year. Seeing him continue on and having some of the other ones keep developing is what the goal is. Smokn Joe had a really solid first year too. We had another one, Shotgun Willie, who ended up getting a fracture in his foot and he needed about seven months off. I was about a week away from qualifying and he ended up taking a bad step. It is what it is. It’s hard on your gut when they hurt themselves, but they are so resilient.”
When the Cal-Expo season comes to a close, Kelly will head back to Alberta and ready himself and his band of pacers for the racing season there.
For now, he’s looking to make the most of his time on and off the track in the Golden State.
“My girlfriend and I went to old Sacramento and had dinner there. We also went to a car museum, which was fun too. I went on a road trip with Ryan Grundy to see where the gold mines started in California. You have to get away from the racing to keep your mind happy. You have to find things to enjoy. Whether that’s snowboarding, skiing, golfing, it’s just nice to escape for a little while.”