Homeracing

Hall of Fame Driver John Campbell Bids Farewell on Friday Night

Profile Picture: Ted Black

Ted Black

June 28th, 2017

Midway through the Friday evening program at The Meadowlands, the one-mile harness racing venue in New Jersey that he helped transform into the sport's mecca in the 1980's and 1990's, Hall of Fame driver John Campbell will climb into the bike for the final time of his legendary career in a parimutuel race.

Campbell, 62, has been a member of the sport's living Hall of Fame for over 25 years and his career and reputation as the sport's top money driver of all-time continued to flourish well after he was inducted. On Friday night, with more than 11,000 driving victories to his credit and nearly $300 million reached in career earnings - clearly the most among standardbred drivers - Campbell will pilot Muscle Diamond in the sixth race and then quietly head off into retirement.

In the early 1980's, Campbell was hardly a household name in harness racing as most fans quickly recalled the skills and accomplishments of legends such as Herve Filion - who passed away last week at the age of 77 - and Carmine Abbatiello and Billy Haughton and Buddy Gilmour. But Campbell, along with fellow Hall of Famer Bill O'Donnell, who is also officially retiring later this summer, helped elevate the Meadowlands to national prominence and he was among the primary reasons the track and the sport gained a brief renaissance.

Not only did Campbell win more than 11,000 races, he won the sport's biggest events, the Hambletonian, the Little Brown Jug, the Messenger, the North America Cup and others on numerous occasions and he piloted home dozens of Breeders Crown winners. Most of all, Campbell won - and lost - with class and dignity and his intelligence, skills and integrity were exemplary and often dramatically counter to what many fans had often perceived of harness racing drivers.

On Friday evening Campbell will have only a handful of catch drives, in complete contrast to his driving days at the peak of his career when he was often in the bike for 75 percent of the evening's dozen races. He will steer Vivacious Allie in the opener, a conditioned event for trotting fillies and then Princess Marxxx in the second race, a $20,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes event for two-year-old trotting fillies.

Campbell's lone drive on the card behind a pacer will come in the fourth race when he steers Michelle's Jazz for trainer Joseph Columbo then his last two drives will be behind trotters. In the fifth, he will climb into the bike to guide Muscle High in a non-winners of two event for trainer Linda Toscano then in the sixth he will take the reins from trainer Brett Bittle and steer Muscle Diamond in conditioned event for older trotters in a race appropriately named for the Hall of Famer - John's Campbell's Meadowlands Farewell - Thanks for the Memories.

Campbell has been the primary pilot for Muscle Diamond throughout his career, guiding the son of Muscle Hill to his most recent victory against considerably tougher foes at Pocono Downs on March 26. Muscle Diamond has since had little luck in the Preferred and in a pair of $200,000 open stakes races, but this event looks like the ideal spot for the Brett Bittle trainee to gain his winning ways and for Campbell, arguably the sport's greatest driver of all-time, to go out in style with a victory that his family and legions of fans should be able to savor for a long, long time.

On Saturday morning Campbell will officially take the second step in his harness racing career when he takes over as President of the Hambletonian Society, replacing longtime president Tom Charters. Campbell will also have several more chances to compete in non-betting events at Goshen Raceway in New York and Clinton Raceway in Canada, but Friday evening at the Meadowlands will mark the final time that harness racing fans will have the chance to witness the sport's winningest driver find the winner's circle at the track where he made winning major races a regular occurrence.
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