John Campbell’s first Hambletonian memory came at Greenwood cheering on local legends

The six-time Hambletonian-winning driver was just 19 when he and fellow horsepeople crowded around a radio at the Toronto track to listen to Bill and Jack Herbert’s filly Sing Away Herbert contest the 1974 race at DuQuoin.

by Dave Briggs

John Campbell’s first Hambletonian memory is particularly vivid. He was 19 in the summer of 1974 when he and a group crowded around a radio in the backstretch at Toronto’s Greenwood Raceway to cheer on local horsemen Bill and Jack Herbert who had filly Sing Away Herbert in the race at DuQuoin.

“There was a group of us at the end of the shedrow, sitting around in chairs and the radio broadcast was coming on,” Campbell said. “There was a lot of interest. Obviously, we were all rooting for her and that was really my first memory of the Hambletonian.”

Though that race is best known as the first time Billy Haughton won a Hambletonian when he steered Christopher T to a straight-heats victory, Sing Away Herbert fared well in the $160,510 event delayed two days by rain. She was third in her heat, won by Christopher T, and fifth in the final.

Campbell, who regularly spent summers at Greenwood helping his father, Jack, and grandfather, Dunc, race horses, said he certainly knew about the Hambletonian before then due to the trade magazines that came to the family farm in rural Ontario. But since the family only raced pacers, trotting stakes seemed more like a distant dream.

It wasn’t until he listened to local legends taking on the big boys in the biggest trotting race in the world that John’s interest in the Hambletonian was piqued.

John would go on to drive six horses to victory in the Hambletonian – the most by any driver in the race’s 98-year history. When he retired, he took the reins of the Hambletonian Society as its CEO.

Yet, he never had a chance to see the Hambletonian in person at DuQuoin.

“I never gained enough traction catch-driving to get an offer to go in ’79 or ’80 and then it came to The Meadowlands in 1981 and I didn’t have anything in it the first year and I was hurt anyway,” John said. “I didn’t even drive that day and watched from the driver’s lounge to see Shiaway St. Pat win.”

That day provided another great memory for John – cheering on his great friend Ray Remmen, who drove his trainee to victory.

“That was just so great,” John said. “I was just cheering really hard for him the whole day and certainly in the race-off. We had a really nice party after that one.”

Six years later, Campbell won his first Hambletonian after he drove Mack Lobell to victory. Wins with Armbro Goal (1988), Harmonious (1990), Tagliabue (1995), Muscles Yankee (1998) and Glidemaster (2006) followed.

But it was the one with Tagliabue that resonated most in the Campbell family. John drove the horse to victory for his brother, Jim, Tagliabue’s trainer. No one took more enjoyment from that triumph than their father, Jack.

“It was a great day for my dad,” John said. “Kelvin Harrison really summed it up the best… after the races were over and I’d showered and I was in the locker room having a beer and Harrison said, ‘Congratulations on the Hambo.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m really happy and it’s great for Jim.’ He said, ‘Yeah, good for Jim, but great for Jack.’ Red and dad were buddies for years and that kind of summed up the day. It was really good for Jim and I, but it was great for my dad.”

As for a favorite Hambletonian he didn’t win, John said the 1989 dead heat between Probe and Park Avenue Joe stands out.

“The dead heat was one of the most exciting races I ever watched,” John said. “All of us were in the drivers’ room at The Meadowlands watching that and couldn’t believe how close it was and we called it one way and they kept replaying it over and over and over before they put up the dead heat and everybody had a different opinion every time they saw it on who won.

“So, that was kind of neat, just how excited everybody in the whole drivers’ room was for that. It wasn’t like the race was over and everybody just came back and started getting ready for the next one. Everybody stayed in there and watched that replay over and over until they put that dead heat up.”


What’s the point behind another trip down Hambletonian memory lane? The great race will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2025.

“We formed a committee last year, in the summer of ’23, the 100th Hambletonian Committee, with various people in the industry that have been involved in the Hambletonian or media,” John said. “The Harness Racing Museum is going to be very heavily involved, as is The Meadowlands. So, we’ve formed that committee and we’ve met a couple of times and discussed fundraising initiatives. We’re actually in the process of applying for some grants.

“So, that’s well underway and it will be mentioned a certain amount prior to this year’s Hambletonian, but then once this 99th is over then we’re going to really ramp up a campaign to make people aware that the 100th is coming in 2025.

“There’s been a lot of ideas put out by the committee. We’ve got an extensive list and, to tell you the truth, most of them look like they would be worthwhile. We can’t do them all, just because of resources, human and financial, but there’s been a number of really good initiatives brought up by the committee. We haven’t narrowed them down as of yet, so I really don’t want to comment on what we are or are not going to do, but we’re certainly cognizant of how big a deal it is and how big an event it is and we want to maximize that.

“It’s the 100th, so you have to be aware of the history of the race and the longevity of the race and just what it has meant to the trotting world since it started. So, honoring some past champions is a big part of that, but I think getting the word out outside the industry to people that, ‘Hey, this race has been going on for 100 years and it’s a really big deal and we have every reason to believe it will go on for another 100 years.’ I think it’s a two-part thing – getting exposure and the word out about the 100th outside the industry, but also being cognizant and honoring the history of it and the past champions and the people that have contributed to the success of the race over the years.”

An important part of any celebration will include the history of the Hambletonian trophy, which, like hockey’s Stanley Cup, has the unique appeal of having all the winners’ names etched into it.

“That’s something that everybody that wins it is aware of… that, hey, it’s going to be on there and it’s going to be on there long after we’re gone,” John said. “I think that has tremendous appeal and prestige to be included on that Hambletonian trophy.”