With 10,600+ races won and over $286 million in earnings John Campbell holds a rock solid place in the history books. He is one of only two Canadian drivers with American horses to win Sweden’s prestigious Elitlopp and has won every major US race, most of them multiple times.
On a farm in Ailsa Craig, Ontario, Campbell grew up learning from his father and grandfather, farmers who happened to race Standardbred horses. While not particularly interested in farming, Campbell gravitated towards the horses at a young age. “From the time I could walk they had a hard time keeping me out of the barn,” he remembers.
The passion for harness racing started for Campbell’s grandfather in the 1920’s and travelled to his sons and grandsons. “I learned so much about everything about horses and harness racing from my father, and he learned from his father,” he explains. Campbell’s intimate connection to harness racing travels through his voice when he explains the sport as “the fabric of my life from the time I grew up… it’s a huge part of everything we do in our family.”
When asked to name his favorite of all the horses that have played a part in his life and career, Campbell’s answer wasn’t a Hall of Fame champion, as one might expect. “Argyel Chester,” he responded, without hesitation. Argyel Chester was born on Campbell’s 11th birthday and owned by his grandmother, who gave her young grandson half of the horse for his birthday gift. The chestnut horse who shared Campbell’s birthday went on to become an Invitational pacer around Ontario and played a part in Campbell’s life for years. When Campbell married his wife, Paula, it was Argyel Chester who came through with a winning year to pay for the wedding. “He was really special to me,” remembers Campbell.
Campbell made a name for himself around Detroit and Ontario racetracks and when the Meadowlands opened its doors in 1976 racing secretary Joe DeFrank remembered the talented young driver from Ontario and encouraged him to come down to the new mile track. It was a decision that would launch one of the most prolific careers in harness history.
Campbell has won six Hambletonians and seven editions of the Meadowlands Pace at the Big M. He established himself as a catch driver there, winning with horses straight from the history books including Mack Lobell, Peace Corps, Cam’s Card Shark and Life Sign. With such an expansive history of winning at the highest level harness racing has to offer, it’s easy to see how Campbell would have a hard time choosing a single favorite moment.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of our interview with John Campbell where he shares his favorite harness racing moments and what life is like outside of the track. This interview kick off our new weekly features of faces in the sport, from fans to owners, trainers to grooms.