He has driven horses straight to the Breeders Crown winners circle 45 times, earned almost twice as much money as everyone else in the series and holds the reins on a career that has already put him in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame.
But John Campbell has never won the big prize at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
The last time the Breeders Crown Finals came to the Plains Township track in 2010, Campbell was shut out in his bid to add to his legendary reputation and illustrious career despite driving in slew of races.
“I didn’t win one,” Campbell mused.
“I’m back to redeem myself Saturday night.”
That’s when the Breeders Crown — known as the Super Bowl of harness racing — returns to Pocono Downs for an exciting 12-race championship card for trotters and pacers beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“You certainly look forward to it,” Campbell, 58, from the Canadian community of Alisa Craig, Ontario, said. “We have 12 championship races. The Breeders Crown has such an impact on how the driver winnings are to be determined.”
Campbell has won more prize money than anyone in history.
His $282 million of earnings through four decades of driving ranks No. 1 all-time. His victory total of 10,577 is eighth among drivers in harness racing history. At the age of 35, Campbell became the youngest person ever elected to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1990. He won the first $1 million purse race.
And along with his 45 Breeders Crown wins and $25.6 million of Breeders Crown earnings, Campbell also won six Hambletonians.
Campbell is currently at sixth place in this year’s driver standings, with 58 wins, $1,381,369 in earnings and an average of $2,390 in earnings each start.
His all-time favorite horse to drive, hands down, was back in the late 1980s when Mack Lobell was considered the world’s fastest trotter while winning championships every year in different classes.
“Mack Lobell was a champion 2-year-old, 3-year-old, 4-year-old,” Campbell marveled. “He was just a phenomenal horse.”
Right after that, Campbell was in the cart for one of the sport’s most phenomenal efforts.
In 1990, the same season in which he became a Hall of Famer, Campbell became a world record holder when he drove a 2-year-old colt named Artsplace to a record time of 1:51 at Pompano Park.
“I think one that strikes me as much as any is Artsplace when he set a world record,” Campbell said while considering his favorite rides. “It was just in real windy conditions. Many people recognize that as a just a tremendous race. That was one of the biggest efforts I’ve ever seen.”
Now he’s looking for another one.
Come Saturday, Campbell will be coaxing horses such as Nuncio, Sometimes Said and Cooler Schooner in the 2-year-old races; Mattie Terror Girl, Time To Kill and Sunshine Beach in 3-year-old races and Modern Legend in a 4-year-old race.
He’ll be driving Possessed Fashion in the grand finale, the field of 3-year-old colts and geldings.
“I’m going to be running eight or nine different horses,” Campbell said.
Which could mean eight or nine different strategies during the course of the night.
“Each of them has to be treated differently,” Campbell said. “It’s an adjustment all the time, from race to race and horse to horse.”
He’s made Pocono Downs a regular race on his circuit — “I’ve been here for Sire Stakes, I’m here every year,” Campbell said — and counts the track as one of his favorites in the world.
“This is a fun track to be on, it’s just a good surface,” Campbell said. “It’s a softer surface for the horses. There’s just a little more control throughout the ride on this track. It’s more consistent around the whole track.”
Now, if he could only find some of that regular success at Pocono Downs that’s made him a legend in the Breeders Crown Finals and in his sport.
“But you can’t let your emotions affect you, either,” Campbell cautioned. “You still have to keep your focus on the needs of the horse, in each particular race.”