The Height of the Storm

When I was asked to do a blog review on The Height of the Storm, the third book in The Triple Crown Trilogy by Kimberly Campbell, I thought I would be able to read the book and write a review. I read the book summary and found myself interested, despite the book being classified as “YA” or Young Adult. It had all the elements I look for in a good book: a tragedy, relatable family drama and well, horses. To better educate myself on the whole picture, I read the summaries of the first two books, The Calm Before the Storm and The Eye of the Storm. I suddenly found that I was invested in the storyline. I wanted to read more about how the universe first aligned Genuine Storm, a horse that needed a second chance at life, with Charlie, a widowed mom of two young kids who found herself starting over whether she was ready to or not. The Height of the Storm begins right after long-shot Genuine Storm has two back-to-back wins at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Weeks before the last leg of the Triple Crown, the stable suffers a devastating fire where much is lost, secrets are unraveled and relationships are broken. The third book centers around whether the group can rally together to clench the first Triple Crown win in thirty-seven years.

Like I said, after reading the official summaries of each book, I felt I was invested in the storyline and I wanted to know more about all the characters and read about their path to the Kentucky Derby. I knew I had to start at the beginning with The Calm Before the Storm. Luckily all the books are available on Amazon so it won’t be too difficult to catch up. In the meantime, I thought it would be a great opportunity to interview Kimberly Campbell about the Series and her own personal connection with Thoroughbreds.

HG: Thanks so much Kimberly for chatting with me. I loved the Thoroughbred Series as a kid and I feel like The Triple Crown Trilogy is an adult version of those, so I am really looking forward to reading the books! I learned that you have always had a soft spot for Off The Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) and have given a forever home to many retired OTTBs. Can you tell me about your first OTTB?

KC: My love for the Thoroughbred started when I was a teenager, when I got my first Thoroughbred off the track.  Smokey was grey, hence my love for a grey horse, and was quite the character.  He would stand in the middle of the field gazing around at the horses pleasantly eating around him and decide it was time to rile the rest of the herd up and start chasing them around.   He wasn’t the easiest to ride and was quite uncomfortable, but he would do whatever I asked, including jump as high as I could stomach.  And as a young kid, I thought I could jump the moon!    The thoroughbred has a heart and mind that I don’t think you find in other breeds, they will try to do the best they can and they certainly know how to exhibit enthusiasm when they are successful!   

HG: Many rescued OTTB stories have left scars in my mind and I am sure you know firsthand how people in the industry can cast the “old” racehorses or the “losers” aside. Is it sometimes hard to still love the sport knowing the things you know or do you think the industry unfairly gets a bad reputation?

KC: I try and look at things from an outside perspective.   The racing industry is at a cross-roads and at times is losing public interest due to mis-communication and mis-understanding.  I think it would be best served by talking in layman terms to the general public so they can understand why certain things are the way they are.  There are extremes in all sports and I think with social media and everyone being able to put their opinion out for all to read, things can get misconstrued.   The industry needs to be more relatable to the average person – sometimes all people see on TV or read about is the wealth owners and trainers that are involved in the Triple Crown races.    What about following a one-racehorse owner like me and focus on all the tidbits I am learning about as I try to understand the industry better?

HG: Have you ever owned an active racehorse? Can you describe the amount of, and intensity of, training that it takes to be competitive?

KC: My first and only racehorse is Height of the Storm, named after my third book.  I purchased her as a yearling in early 2017 with dreams of her racing career coinciding with my books and dreams of reaching the Kentucky Derby.   It was not to be, but it has been a whirlwind of fun.  Storm is definitely a competitor, but she got really sick and almost died right before she was going to run in her first race as a two-year old.  A team of great doctors at the equine hospital nursed her back to health, but they weren’t sure she would get back to the track.  After six months of rehab and weight gain, she returned to the track and continued her path to her first race.  To date, her best finish was a second at Pimlico, a few weeks after the Preakness.  It was exciting to watch her come down the homestretch where so many great racehorses have run with the tents in the infield as the backdrop.  

My trainer does a great job with Storm, but he is also educating me on what level races she could be successful at.  Since her second place finish, Storm usually finishes mid-herd.  She is a consistent runner, but doesn’t exhibit that “kick” to finish strong.  There is so much that goes into getting a horse to the race, both physically and mentally.  You also need to figure out what surface they like to run on, dirt or turf, as well as what would be the best distance.

Given that I don’t want to risk Storm getting claimed, our race options for her are limited.  The majority of the races at the track are different levels of claiming races, where horses have the potential to change hands, and you can’t prevent it.  Although I have been told the risk is small, I couldn’t stomach putting Storm in a claiming race and having someone claim her away from me.  Although the competing argument is that these races would be a better match for her potential and get her in a winning mindset – hence the mental side of preparing a horse to race.  They do know when they win.  Right now she is quite comfortable with finishing with her friends around her.  

I will give her another race this year and then give her a few months off at a farm to continue to mature and develop physically.  Then, if as a four-year-old she doesn’t succeed, then I will find a new job for her such as being a show horse.  Storm will always have a home with me. 

HG: What do you think it would be like to sit in the owner’s box of the Kentucky Derby? Would you be able to enjoy it or be wrecked with nerves? I think I would be bouncing back between those two emotions!

KC: Oh boy, that would be the best!  I was fortunate to be invited into the Paddock of this past Kentucky Derby for a race earlier in the day and it was such a treat.  No matter what, my mind would be on having a safe trip – which I say to Storm’s jockey every time they get up on her for a race.  Believe me, watching your horse run down the homestretch at Laurel Park is just as exciting as watching the horses come down the stretch at Churchill Downs.  The one emotion I look forward to experiencing is coming in first – it wouldn’t matter what track I was at. 

HG: Did you ever anticipate that you would be an author of an equestrian novel? What was the most challenging part of writing the last book, The Height of the Storm?

KC: Never in my life did I envision being a writer.  I am an accountant by trade and have written the books in my “spare time” while managing several businesses and a houseful of kids and all their activities.  But I was passionate about the topic and have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about each of the races, as well as meeting so many great people who provided me details that I have weaved into the story.  There are so many people to thank for taking the time to answer my questions. Early on before the first book was written, there were the ones who helped me frame my ideas and storyline – from the receptionist at a breeding farm in Casanova, Virginia after the owner passed away to the owner breeder who introduced me to the details of Keeneland and its historic auction to the historian at Sagamore Farm outside of Baltimore.   And then subsequently, the tours of Pimlico and Belmont by individuals willing to hear what I was trying to write about, introductions to vets that specialized in various aspects that I incorporated into the books, along with inspirational chats with industry insiders at various conferences I attended.    

The challenge of writing book three was that I wasn’t sure where the story should go.  When I started out writing the trilogy, I knew what the main topics and stories were going to be in Calm Before the Storm and Eye of the Storm.  I didn’t have a strong sense of where I wanted the last book to go.   My editor Lauren Kanne was instrumental in asking questions and helping with the research as we worked together to develop the last book and wrap up the storyline of each character. 

HG: What’s next? Can we look forward to a new equestrian series from you or a potential spinoff series?

KC: I have been asked about more books and for now, my goal is to take a breather while my kids are still at home.  I have one in college, one ready to head to college and my daughter is a freshman in high school.  I have ideas on where I could go with follow on stories as I love educating myself as well as the reader in different areas of the horse industry.  And maybe it just isn’t within horse racing, but maybe some of Storm’s offspring venture into other disciplines, like eventing or showjumping.  I will have to see where my heart (and Storm, both fictional and real-life) takes me. 

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Kimberly! Excited to see what is in store for you next!! Chloe votes that Storm’s offspring enter the showjumping stadium!

Kimberly and her horse, Lilly.

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