John Campbell delivered a emphatic message when he accepted the Stan Bergstein-Proximity Award, a tribute to his extraordinary career as the all-time leading driver in harness racing.
“Lifetime achievement? I’ve got news for you, I’m not done, on or off the track,” Campbell, 58, told the crowd at the U.S. Harness Writers’ Association banquet over the winter in Florida.
Campbell has an opportunity to back up that statement on Saturday night with Odds On Equuleus, a leading contender in the $635,750 Meadowlands Pace.
The Pace is the centerpiece attraction on the biggest night in the sport. The spectacular 14-race program at The Meadowlands Racetrack starts at 7:15; gates open at 5 p.m. Admission is free with complimentary t-shirts for everyone, while supplies last.
Campbell and The Pace have been synonymous through the years.
Campbell is the sport’s all-time leader with over $280 million in career earnings, more than half coming at The Meadowlands. The youngest member of the Hall of Fame when elected at 35, Campbell has won 16 Meadowlands driving titles.
Along the way, he has won The Pace a record seven times. His 30 drives are also a Pace record.
Campbell returns to The Pace after a two-year absence, eager to make good on his Proximity-Stan Bergstein pledge.
“It would justify my statement in Florida, wouldn’t it?” Campbell said of another Pace victory. “Anytime you get to race in The Meadowlands Pace, it’s special. It’s different every time, when you win it. You’re dealing with different connections. It’s a big deal to a horse’s resume, to put a Meadowlands Pace on it. It’s one of our premier events. There’s a lot prestige, besides the money that goes with The Meadowlands Pace. There are always different people involved. The reward is different for different people, for various reasons. That keeps everything fresh. It’s something you always want to be part of.”
Another Meadowlands Pace win won’t come easy, not when tackling the sensational Captaintreacherous, the 6-5 favorite with the glittering 13-1-1 record in 15 starts.
Campbell is encouraged by the turnaround effort by his colt in last week’s Pace elimination. While Captaintreacherous, Twilight Bonfire and Wake Up Peter were awarded byes, Odds On Equuleus had to fight for a berth in the final.
In his best effort of the season, Odds On Equuleus overcame post 10 and a tough trip to finish a neck behind Sunshine Beach.
Odds On Equuleus, a top colt last year, looked primed for another banner season in his early qualifiers. He couldn’t get untracked his first three races at Mohawk Raceway, including a ninth-place finish in the North America Cup.
Trainer Robin Schadt gave Odds On Equuleus three weeks off following the North America Cup, and the colt came back strong in The Pace elimination.
“I’m obviously very happy with his race the other night,” Campbell said. “He really bounced back from what happened in Toronto, which was one thing after another that didn’t go right. He couldn’t have raced any better. I’m optimistic going in that he will race very well on Saturday.
“I think that race will help him. He should be a little tighter and a little stronger. That’s what we’re hoping for. There’s no reason to think he won’t. He struggled with his gait, and everything up in Canada. He was back to himself in the elimination, the way he was last year and in his qualifiers this year.”
Odds On Equuleus starts from the rail as the 4-1 third choice.
While the rail would not have been Campbell’s first preference, it is far superior to landing an outside post.
“Once we didn’t win our elimination, you are at the mercy of the draw,” Campbell said. “It maybe isn’t ideal, but I don’t have a problem with it. It’s way better than 8, 9 or 10.”
Sunshine Beach, the Pace elimination winner, starts along side in post 2 as the 3-1 second choice.
Beach Memories, Johny Rock, Resistance Futile, Rockin Amadeus and Sir Cary’s Z Tam complete the Pace field.
The Pace night card also features the $471,800 William Haughton Memorial Final featuring world-record holder Warrawee Needy.
I Luv The Nightlife is the heavy favorite in the $184,250 Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old filly pacers while many of the top contenders for the $1.2 million Hambletonian and the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks here on Aug. 3 get their final tune-ups in the $294,000 Stanley Dancer Memorial and the $265,500 Delvin Miller Memorial for fillies.
A quartet of $150,000 New Jersey Sires Stakes for 2-year-olds rounds out the stakes lineup.
For fans who can’t make it to The Meadowlands, television coverage is available on MSG Plus, SportsSouth, Sun Sports and TVG. Check local listings for the channel lineup. Live streaming is also available at www.meadowlandsracetrack.com.
Meadowlands Pace Night is a cornerstone of the Championship Meet, the showcase for the top trotters and pacers through Aug. 3.
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