Jim Campbell incredibly deserving of his Hall of Fame honor

John said he is immensely proud his brother will be enshrined in Goshen this summer.

by Dave Briggs

John Campbell said he couldn’t be prouder that his younger brother, Jim, will be enshrined into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame this summer.

He said Jim more than earned the berth thanks to tremendous talent, integrity, ability to adapt as a trainer and, perhaps most of all, work ethic.

“[Jim’s] work ethic when he was a kid was far more than mine. I was looking to get out of work, and he didn’t mind it at all,” John said.

In that way, John said Jim is more like their grandfather, Dunc Campbell, who is enshrined in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

“I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, but the work ethic part didn’t wear off because I was just looking to do it easier and get out of work,” John said, laughing. “Jim, even as a kid, he never ran out of a time where he wouldn’t work.”

John is seven years older than Jim, so the age gap was particularly significant when they were kids growing up in rural Ontario. Like any good older sibling, John let Jim tag along from time to time, but only on John’s terms. John would occasionally convince Jim to throw on the goalie gear so John and his friends could blast slap shots at him. Long ago, John told me he also used to beat Jim up when they were kids, but only, as you might expect, “when he deserved it.” The running joke was that Jim was going to get John back when he was 53 and John was 60.

“Oh, [Jim] still harps on some stuff I did to him as a kid,” John said recently. “I mean, there’s seven years difference. I know he hasn’t forgotten because he’ll bring up stuff when we’re having a beer or two, but he let it go, put it that way.”

Still, the two have always been close and supported each other. John said he wasn’t the least bit surprised that Jim travelled from New Jersey back to Ontario in 2017 to be at Clinton Raceway for John’s official retirement from driving.

“We’ve both supported each other throughout everything we’ve done, whether it’s playing hockey as kids or through the horses and all that, so I really wasn’t that surprised,” John said.

John was instrumental in Jim’s start in the training business. That’s where their bond first grew stronger.

“When [Jim] came down to New Jersey at a young age and started working with me, I think that really solidified it,” John said. “I left the farm when I was 18 or 19 years old to go to the track and Jim was 11 and 12 then. Then, when he came down, he was 17 or 18 and he had changed a lot in those years. So, rather than looking at him as a little brother, I looked at him as a friend and a little brother. Then, we worked together for a number of years and the relationship just got stronger and stronger.”

As John’s career began to blossom, particularly as a driver, he admits it couldn’t have been that easy for Jim.

“When [Jim] got his driver’s license to drive down at The Meadowlands — I had encouraged him to and got him to drive in some qualifying races and what not — and the comments were really unfair for him when he drove, for sure,” John said.

“He never drove that much and he didn’t drive enough to get experience to get better at it, but he just didn’t like it like I did, the driving part of it… But the comments when he was getting his license and starting to drive were really, really unfair and I took exception to it with a number of people, including with a few reporters for the local papers.

“There were these little digs at him when he was driving and comments in the picks and stuff… But, he certainly came out of any shadow I might have cast and nobody thinks like that anymore and they haven’t for a long, long time.”

Jim has a long list of fantastic horses he has trained — including Hambletonian winners Tabliabue, driven by John, and Cool Papa Bell. John said one of Jim’s greatest strengths is, “being able to adapt to the change of horses over the years.

“He’s not the only one because there’s a number of trainers, but if you look at trainers from the late ’80s and early ’90s like Brett Pelling, Nifty Norman, Linda Toscano and Noel Daley, they’ve all done it,” John said. “They’ve been able to adapt to the change in our breed and be successful and find out what’s the best way to get horses to big races and that’s changed dramatically over the years.

“I think that’s something that Jim and some others have done over the years, but I think that’s a big thing to be able to do because many people just say, ‘This is my way. This is the way I’ve always done it and I’m going to continue.’ Jim hasn’t done that over the years.”

The victory with Tagliabue in the 1995 Hambletonian was a tremendous family victory for the Campbells, but John said it was always easier driving for Jim than some trainers.

Certainly, it was easier with some guys when you develop that relationship and that trust… you can be so honest and blunt after a race, whether you win or lose,” John said. “With Jim, with Chuck Sylvester, with [Bob] McIntosh… you could come back and just give them a blunt assessment of what you thought no matter how the horse ended up.”

In fact, John said one of the greatest success stories in his career of working hand-in-hand with a trainer to help improve a horse was with one of Jim’s pupils — Run The Table.

“I started driving him after Jim got him,” John said. “Jim and I really worked together to get him figured out and keep him racing at that top level for the rest of the year. Part of it was the way he trained him, but I think the input back and forth between Jim and I likely worked out as well with that horse as with any horse because once he got to that level and we figured out how he liked to race, how he liked to train… It was just a really good collaboration between Jim and I with Run The Table.”

Through it all, John said Jim never looked for attention or accolades.

“[Jim] just goes about his business and always did,” John said. “He never really did draw attention to himself, but always did have a tremendous work ethic.

“I’m proud of his whole career and how he’s conducted himself. I think it’s just a culmination of everything he’s done to be elected to the Hall of Fame.”