Campbell broadcasting the Cutler makes for a classic combination

Hall of Famer John Campbell will make his America’s Day at the Races debut on Saturday on Fox Sports 2.

by Debbie Little

As harness racing’s all-time leading money-winning driver, John Campbell knows what it’s like to comment on what happened in a race.

So, it should be old hat for him to talk about the field for Saturday’s (May 18) Arthur J. Cutler Memorial at The Meadowlands, a race he won in 2004 (War Paint) and 2008 (Corleone Kosmos).

But this will be anything but the norm for Campbell when you consider the only driving he’ll be doing is on the Long Island Expressway, and he’ll be talking in a studio at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Campbell will make his debut this weekend on America’s Day at the Races on Fox Sports 2 (FS2) from 9-11 p.m. The show, featuring the Cutler, is the first of nine from The Big M this year.

Campbell will be joining New York Racing Association (NYRA) host Acacia Clement and is filling in for primary analyst Paul Verderosa, who has a wedding to go to that night.

“So, I was trying to think of who can fill in for [Verderosa],” said Eric Donovan, NYRA’s senior director of TV broadcast operations. “And I got to thinking and I said, ‘Well, instead of someone filling in for him, why don’t we go totally outside the box and think about something different, and the friendship I’ve developed with John over the last couple of years just came to mind.

“Any time you can have someone like John on, you’re thrilled to have that opportunity. Just the experience and knowledge that he brings of what he’s been able to do on the track, but also, his current role in the industry, in the game, is quite extensive and he’s a big supporter of what we do and a big promoter of the game as well. So anytime you can get him on the show, it’s a plus.”

Donovan wasn’t sure if Campbell would be available or even interested in doing the show, but he thought it was worth taking a shot.

“I talked to him a few weeks ago and I met with him at Yonkers for the Borgata, and he was happy to do it,” Donovan said. “So, with him as the all-time leading money-earning driver, who won a ton of stakes, all the big stakes you could ever want to win, his knowledge of the game, and what his role is now, I thought he would be the perfect fit for the first show of the year.”

According to Campbell, this is not his first rodeo when it comes to being on that side of the mic.

“Yeah, I’ve commentated on races in the past at different times when I was hurt or if I wasn’t in a race or something like that,” Campbell said. “So, I’ve done something similar.”

In perhaps a fortuitous circumstance, Campbell met and spoke with Clement at the Dan Patch Awards in February.

“I had not met her prior to Dan Patch, but we were at the same table in Florida and, you know, it worked out really well,” Campbell said. “I’ve certainly admired her work, the stuff that she’s done as far as Breeders Crown shows. I thought the Breeders Crown shows have been excellent. And so, we know each other at this point and I think it will go well.”

As president/chief executive officer of the Hambletonian Society, Campbell is well aware of the racing prowess of those competing in Saturday’s Cutler. However, just as he did when he was driving, he’ll be doing his homework before they hit the track.

“Yeah, you don’t want to go on there unprepared or just not know enough about the horses to have a valid opinion,” Campbell said. “You don’t want to go out there and wing it, especially on national television. And, you know, there’s a standard that our shows have achieved already and I certainly don’t want to let that standard down in any way.”

Campbell said he’ll wait to see how Saturday’s show goes before thinking about the possibility of doing anything in the future.

“I’m not a TV guy. I’d rather leave that to the professionals,” he said. “This was just a thing where Paul was unavailable and Eric asked me to fill in and so it’s not something I’m looking to pursue.”

It’s not unusual for NYRA to have horsepeople do commentary since they have used jockeys Richard Migliore and Rajiv Maragh, as well as trainer Tom Amoss, on their thoroughbred broadcasts.

Donovan said he would be more than happy to have Campbell join them on a future broadcast.

“I’d love to have him any time,” Donovan said. “I know his schedule is going to be busy, and certainly for the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown I would expect that that’s not an option for him, but certainly we’ll leave it open for other former or even current drivers and trainers. I mean, Tom Amoss still trains horses. He’s pretty active throughout the year and he’s still able to do the show with us up in Saratoga. So, certainly we would consider it.”

For the Meadowlands Pace (July 13) and the Hambletonian (Aug. 3) the NYRA crew will be at Saratoga, but in October when the Breeders Crown is back at The Meadowlands (Oct. 25-26, finals), Donovan’s team will be based back at Aqueduct.

Donovan said, if possible, he would like to be on track and have a set at The Big M for the Crown.

“It’s not finalized yet, but that’s something I’d really like to do, and I think, since it’s at The Meadowlands, it would be pretty easy for us to set up,” Donovan said.

Campbell said he does hope that people will continue to watch the Fox broadcasts because it’s good for the harness racing industry and he was extremely humble when asked if he thought his presence might draw in a few more viewers this weekend.

“Well, I don’t know if [my presence is] going to help or not, but… I am looking forward to it and I’m excited about it and I think it will all work out quite well,” Campbell said. “I just want to see [the Fox shows] continue. I think they’ve grown since they started and certainly the enthusiasm from the NYRA people — Eric Donovan and his folks producing them — has been excellent. And I just want it to continue on the way we’ve been going and growing with NYRA. I think it’s national exposure that is sorely needed for our sport.”