John Campbell goes out a winner at the Meadowlands
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Hall of Fame driver John Campbell went out a winner in his last day of racing at the Meadowlands.
Arguably the greatest driver in harness racing history, Campbell won his final two races, capping his evening by guiding heavily favored Muscle Diamond to an impressive three-length victory in a $13,000 trot on a card that was billed as his farewell to Meadowlands.
It was the 10,667th win of his career and it came just one race after the 62-year-old won the fifth race on the card with Muscle High.
After both wins, Campbell was surrounded family and friends in the winner’s circle for pictures that seemed worthy of races for $1 million.
It was a perfect ending for a man who grew up wanting to do nothing more than drive harness horses.
“The way the races worked out, those two had the best chances and they came through for me,” Campbell said. “It has just been a wonderful evening. The fans have been incredible. My family and friends here have been so supportive. I couldn’t be a happier guy.”
Campbell will race at Goshen on Sunday in a Hall of Fame event and at Clinton Raceway in his native Ontario at the end of July before moving into his new job as president of the Hambletonian Society.
Campbell admitted he would have been terribly disappointed had he not been able to win any of his five drives. He finished second in his first three before winning the last two.
Earlier in the day, he had told his granddaughter, Emma, that “Pop Pop has to win at least one race.”
“When I got the first one that felt good,” Campbell said. “It was icing on the cake to get the second. And believe me, I still love winning. It felt just as good going through that last time as it ever did.”
Surrounded by his grandchildren, Campbell had signed autographs, posed for pictures and shook hands with fans for a little less than an hour before the start of the 10-race program.
Among the people who stopped to visit him were his wife, children and his brother, Jim, along with Hall of Fame trainer Chuck Sylvester.
Sylvester and John Campbell combined to win two Hambletonians, with Mack Lobell in 1987 and Muscles Yankee in 1998. The Campbell brothers won trotting’s biggest race in 1995 with Tagliabue.
It was also appropriate that Campbell’s last two winning drives were sired by Muscle Hill, a son of Muscles Yankee.
“He was just smarter than everybody else,” Sylvester said about Campbell’s driving ability. “He used to tell me how a big race was going from the paddock. He knew what almost every driver was going to do. He knew which ones were leaving, which ones were to get parked. John is good, just so sharp. He knew everyone else’s mind and he was right all the time.”
John Craggan waited about 30 minutes before getting Campbell to sign a baseball cap that included the signature of Hall of Fame driver Bill O’Donnell and other drivers who have raced at the Meadowlands since it opened in 1976.
“I just like the thrill of seeing him and Bill O’Donnell racing for that No. 1 spot,” Craggan said about the two drivers who dominated the 1980s at the Big M. “It was a competition in the beginning. They were the two guys in the beginning.”
Campbell is the winningest driver in harness racing history with almost $300 million in purses. He has led North American drivers 16 times in purses earned in a year, won 23 races worth at least $1 million, won 48 races in the Breeders Crown series, 32 Triple Crown races, a record seven Meadowlands Paces and a record six Hambletonians. He has driven seven horses named Horse of the Year.