Remembering all six of Campbell’s Pepsi North America Cup victories

The Hall of Fame driver – and the reinsman with the most NA Cup victories to his credit – recounts all six of his triumphs in just a nine-year span in the 1990s.

by Dave Briggs

John Campbell still holds the record for the most Pepsi North America Cup victories by a driver with six. Even more impressive is the fact he won all six in a nine-year period in the 1990s that included four straight wins from 1994 through 1997.

“I did have some unbelievable horses in it, for sure,” he said. “And I had some unbelievable good fortune in it as well, there’s no question. It just all fell together there during that time period.

“If you’re going to have good luck in a race, it may as well be in a million-dollar one.”

The streak began in 1991 at Greenwood with Precious Bunny (replay here).

“I had driven him bad in his previous race, in the Jersey Classic,” Campbell said. “I just got him in a bad spot, then a horse made a break in front of him and he came charging to be second. I was certainly upset with myself for that race and looking to make amends in the next stake that came up.

“He drew well, drew inside the competition. I had all the confidence in the world and he was so handy at the gate. I just went to the front. Die Laughing was parked and I just left him out there and I got a pretty good breather the middle three-eighths of the race and it was pretty well all over by then.”

Campbell’s second NA Cup win came in 1994, the first year harness racing was held at Woodbine Racetrack. He drove Cams Card Shark to victory (replay here).

“[Cams Card Shark] was dominant there for a period of time,” Campbell said. “He actually got beat in his elimination, if I remember correctly, so there was a little bit of doubt there. I sat in the 2-hole in behind Pacific Rocket and I raced him a little more conservative than I did sometimes, just because he hadn’t raced that well in the elimination, and maybe even the Burlington. So, I was a little apprehensive about how much I could use him, but he ended up getting a great trip. He sat right in the 2-hole until the head of the stretch and, when I moved him, he won easily.”

In 1995, Campbell won the NA Cup with Davids Pass (replay here), a horse notable for also winning the Meadowlands Pace.

“Davids Pass, his star shone for a brief time and that time was North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace,” Campbell said. “He was a horse that needed a really good trip. He wouldn’t overcome bad luck and he got perfect trips in both races. It worked out well and I was able to follow cover right through until the head of the stretch.

“He always gave you a good run as long as you didn’t use him the first part of the mile. Fortunately, for him and me, the trips worked out great both in the Meadowlands Pace and North America Cup. He really wasn’t heard from too much after that.”

A year later, Campbell posted a 12-1 NA Cup upset with Arizona Jack (replay here) by a nose hair over Stout at Woodbine the first year the race was held in the afternoon.

“I had a big favorite in one of the other eliminations and I didn’t have anything in Arizona Jack’s elimination and it was Billy Fahy’s drive,” Campbell said. “Billy wanted to stay at The Meadowlands. Gary Machiz trained [Arizona Jack] and asked if I’d just go with him in the elimination. They assumed that whatever horse I had would get into the final and then Billy would come up and race him in the final. I said, ‘Fine.’

“Well, mine didn’t make the final and Arizona Jack did, so they discussed it amongst themselves and said, ‘You go with him in the final.’ So, I drove him. It was an afternoon race and the wind was blowing 35 miles an hour. I said to Gary, ‘This is going to be a screwed up race because of the wind. I just hope we’re on the right side of it.’ And, we were.

“Tony Kerwood was driving Stout. Tony got trapped down at the rail and it was a screwed up race. The outer tier was out there and it stalled and I went three-wide really early with [Arizona Jack] and made the front and Tony never shook loose until late and, believe me, that ‘nose’ was diminishing every half stride at the wire. It was one of those things – it was a screwed up race and we were lucky to win it, just because Tony had bad luck.”

In 1997, the last of Campbell’s four straight NA Cup wins, he drove Gothic Dream to victory at Woodbine (replay here) for the Ontario team of trainer Jack Darling and his co-owner Dan Smith.

“I had driven quite a bit for Jack at that time, so that was special, just because Jack and I came from the same part of [Ontario],” Campbell said. “We’d had some success prior to that, but when you make it to North America Cup, it doesn’t get any higher than that.

“[Gothic Dream] was one of the favorites going into the race and he was in good form. He was better off a trip and he got a good trip. Once I showed him daylight into the stretch, he paced home and won it kind of easily.”

Two years later, Campbell won his final NA Cup when The Panderosa took the 1999 edition at Woodbine for trainer Brett Pelling (replay here).

“[The Panderosa]was just dominant at that time,” Campbell said. “Brett Pelling had brought him back and he had come back super good. We were prepping him for that race and, obviously, the other ones after that, but we knew he was really on his toes and good going into that race. I had all kinds of confidence… I just kept him out of trouble and I didn’t have to do much else.”

That Campbell never won another Cup is strange. He thought one, in particular, got away — and it was a horse that, notably, was sired by The Panderosa.

“Going around the last turn with Dapper Dude [in 2012 at Mohawk], I thought he had a really good chance of winning,” he said. “He got outkicked by Thinking Out Loud and finished third [ahead of Sweet Lou]… Around that last turn, I was licking my chops with Dapper Dude and I thought he had a really good chance to win. He raced well, he just got beat.”

As for his string of great luck in the 1990s, he said it was something of a coincidence.

“It was just having the right horses and the right luck through that time frame,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you, around that time, I looked forward to the North America Cup every year.”


During last week’s Elitloppet trip to Sweden, Campbell correctly picked the eventual winner, Horsy Dream, on the broadcast.

At dinner on the Friday before the big race, Campbell was seated next to one of Horsy Dream’s owners. “We chatted throughout the evening and then I saw him Saturday and Sunday on a number of occasions and he wanted me to come down and take a look at his horse, which I did,” Campbell said. “So, it was kind of a connection there and it was an easy pick for me. Then, when I saw [Horsy Dream] in the elimination, he was so impressive in his heat and looked really strong. I was very impressed with him from an athletic standpoint, looking at him, too.”

Horsy Dream set a 1:49.2 European record in his second and deciding heat of the day.

“He did that with the ear plugs in,” Campbell said. “He wasn’t extended all out, either. The French have so many good horses. The horse that everybody thought was their best horse [Idao de Tillard] didn’t qualify for the final and they went 1-2-3 in one elimination and won the other elimination and the final, it just shows how strong the French breed is now.”

As for other takeaways from this year’s Elitloppet, Campbell said the depth of quality horses racing on Saturday and Sunday and the variety of the races, particularly in terms of different distances.

“Something you take away every year is that they have so much variation in distances, the different starts, the different handicaps for horses at the start — behind the gate they are handicapped or if they are going from the circle start, they have to start a certain distance behind,” he said. “There are just more variables that are put into play for the betting public and it’s unfortunate that we’ve missed the boat on that over the last 30 or 40 years.

“I think we made a mistake not continuing on with distance races that, you know, some of our bigger races had back in the ‘60s or ‘70s.

“You look at [Swedish racing with] envy that they have all those variables. Then, they have the monté racing, which is so popular. We took a stab at that and it just wasn’t followed through with enough or didn’t catch on enough or whatever. We just can’t seem to get away from what we always do and I think that’s to the detriment of long term.”