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Condren Upsets In Legends Day Trot

Published: July 30, 2017 9:51 am ET

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Although he wasn’t shown much support at the mutuel windows on Sunday (July 30), driver Steve Condren and the Al Fair-trained Lady Caterina upset the apple cart during the 2017 Legends Day Trot at Clinton Raceway. It was the most memorable edition of the biennial event to date, as it served as the official driving retirement of ‘Mr. Harness Racing’ John Campbell.

The public was completely behind Campbell in the wagering pool, as it sent Standardbred racing’s most decorated reinsman postward as the 1-5 favourite from Post 5 with the Amy MacDonald-trained Happy Holidays.

The field fired to the lead after the starting gate pulled away. Two of the pilots that left the hardest were Campbell and Condren, the latter of which had started from Post 3 with Lady Caterina. Four of the starters made bids for the point as the field went into the first turn. Campbell was positioned first over on the turn when Happy Holidays turned into a bit of a bad dream for the winner of more than 11,000 career races.

A shot of the early crowd at Legends Day 2017 (SC Photo)

Happy Holidays went on a break and Campbell was forced to take his mare to the outside and out of the race for a reset of gait. To say the complexion of the race changed right there was the understatement of the day.

As the public was still a bit stunned by the major plot twist, Condren, who has driven his mounts to almost 6,900 wins and earnings of almost $115 million, was on top through opening splits of :29 and :57.4 and was looking to steal the proceedings for Fair, of Ancaster, Ont., who also owns Lady Caterina.

Pressure began to mount on Condren in the third quarter, as he had Lady Caterina trotting down to the three-quarters pole in 1:27.4. Bella Palazzo (driven by Ron Waples) had taken a two-hole ride through the fractions and was ready for battle, as was Neils Golden Girl (David Miller), who was racing in third, but was a bit rough-gaited on the turn.

Waples and Miller gave it their best shot in the final quarter, and the pair of reinsmen were within striking distance in the final frame, but it was Condren and Lady Caterina who could not be denied in the 2017 Legends Day Trot.

Condren and ‘Caterina’ went on to hit the wire first in 1:58.1 and returned $53.50 for every successful $2 win wager that was placed on them. Miller and Neils Golden Girl finished second. Waples and Bella Palazzo crossed the wire third. Campbell and Happy Holidays finished seventh, while Bill O’Donnell, who was also taking part in his final career drive, finished fifth with Lexis DJ, who scratched in off the also eligible list.

“This is where a lot of us got started, so it’s great to be here today,” a victorious Condren told Greg Blanchard in a post-race interview. Condren also took the time to reflect on Campbell, who is commonly referred to as the ‘Wayne Gretzky’ of harness racing.

“His biggest attribute is that he knew how to win big races,” said Condren. “He knows how to rate the pace. He’s a true gentleman and has always been a pleasure to race against.”

After some photos in the winner’s circle, Campbell took to the microphone to address the crowd. With Campbell being commonplace in the on-track fabric of North American harness racing, it was a surreal moment to see the man in maroon and white speak to the crowd after the race.

“This has been an overwhelming day today,” said Campbell, who said that he would like to thank all the owners and trainers that have supported him over the years.

“The first horse I ever raced made a break, and now the last one has as well,” said Campbell, who had some interesting comments up his sleeve for later in the address.

Campbell’s words were passionate and heartfelt. Even though he probably had an idea of what he was going to say, and he had probably gone over his address in his head a bit beforehand, Campbell’s words were real and from the heart. Although his emotions wanted to get the better of him, Campbell was composed and thanked those that were really deserving of praise.

He thanked his mother, sister, and wife, Paula – his rock that has been right there with him through his fairytale career. He also thanked his three daughters, Lisa, Michelle and Brit. “There have been many times that I haven’t been able to attend important events because of my career,” said John, “but they have always been patient, have understood and supported me. They’ve never questioned things, just supported me with love, and for that I can’t thank them enough.”

Campbell also took the time to thank Clinton Raceway’s Ian Flemming. “Ian wanted to create something (Legends Day) for the fans and the community, to say ‘thank-you’ for all the support over the years. This is what Legends Day has turned into, and to that I say ‘congratulations.’

“There’s something special going on here, and it’s because of you, the fans. What a way to go out. Thank-you so much!”

The 2017 Legends Day Trot has been billed as Campbell’s last-ever drive, although Campbell left the door open – ever so slightly – for one more steer.

“In all probability this is my last drive,” he said.

Legends Day 2017 kicked off with a trio of $18,450 Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots dashes for two-year-old trotting fillies.

The Gary Oliver-trained and Trevor Henry-driven Frick ($7.50) kicked off the card with a maiden-breaking 2:06 score in Race 1, the first of the OSS Grassroots dashes for two-year-old trotting fillies.

Frick, by Johnny William and out of the Mutineer mare B Cor Tanya, started from the rail, cut all the fractions (:31.1, 1:03.1, 1:35.3), and hung on to win for owners Oliver Delmaple Holdings and Dawn Hass, both of Cobourg, Ont.

Bonnie Breeze (driven by Jonathan Drury) took a two-hole ride through the fractions and tried to get up the rail late, but just fell short and finished second. Stand For Justice (Mike Saftic) had come first over from third along the final turn, but she ran out of real estate and had to settle for third.

The Travis Henry-trained and driven Sheza Chunkymonkey ($15.40) triumphed in Race 2, the second OSS Grassroots tilt for the two-year-old trotting fillies.

Sheza Chunkymonkey, a daughter of Majestic Son out of the Muscles Yankee mare Stonebridge Amanda, started from Post 1 and trotted a maiden-breaking, gate-to-wire mile in 2:08.4. She cut the fractions in :32.2, 1:05.2 and 1:37.2 and hung on to get the job done for owner Princeton Farms Inc. (of Princeton, Ont.) and Madalyn Henry (Embro, Ont.).

Justice Rules (driven by Bob McClure) and Carnegie Hall (Mike Saftic) finished up second and third, respectively.

The Bob McIntosh-trained and Bob McClure-driven Kant Afford It ($3:50) captured Race 3, the final OSS Grassroots dash for the two-year-old trotting lasses.

Kant Afford It was sent away as the 3-5 chalk from Post 4 and made every pole a winning one before hitting the wire first in 2:05. The win was of the maiden-breaking variety for Kant Afford It, a daughter of Kadabra out of the Cash Hall mare Urge To Splurge. She cut the fractions in :30.4, 1:02 and 1:33.2.

Kant Afford It is owned by her breeders – the Robert McIntosh Stables (of Windsor, Ont) and CSX Stables (Liberty Center, Ohio). Melanie G (driven by Steve Mahar) finished second and Dalliance Seelster (Steve Byron) was third.

Race 9 on the card was the $5,000 Winners Over Pace, and it was also the Steve Campbell Retirement Pace, as the dedicated local horseman was acknowledged by the track and the local crowd. Post 4 starter They Call Me Gordy ($4.40) got the job done in the event, as the six-year-old Arizona Liar gelding turned the trick in 1:57.2 for trainer Kyle Bossence and driver Bob McClure.

Standardbred Canada CEO Dan Gall (left) shares a laugh with John Campbell (right) and Greg Blanchard (SC Photo)

Legends Day at Clinton Raceway is the biennial event in Clinton, Ont. that honours the sport’s upper echelon reinsmen. The 2017 edition was a must-attend affair, as ‘Mr. Harness Racing’ John Campbell was in the sulky for his final career drive, which came in the $15,000 Legends Day Trot.

Campbell was named the new CEO of the Hambletonian Society in mid-March and confirmed his driving retirement with Trot Insider shortly thereafter.

“Going forward, I will be reaching out to all facets of our industry, encouraging them to make decisions that are in the best interest of our sport,” Campbell said at the time. “We have our issues and problems, no question, but I believe very strongly that from a betting and entertainment point of view our sport can be relevant and attractive.”

Campbell later told Trot Insider that his new role will not be a desk job."I'm going to be out and around,” he said. “I think I'll be actually more visible to you and a lot of the fans because I'm going to be on the front side instead of in the paddock where you wouldn't see me.”

In mid-April, Campbell confirmed that his last-ever career drive would come at Clinton Raceway during Legends Day 2017. The native of Ailsa Craig, Ont. said this week that, “It just feels good to me to end up in Ontario, not far from where I started and in front of a number of people who were there when I started driving back in the spring of 1972. It feels like full circle for me and kind of apropos.”

Campbell’s final drives at the Meadowlands Racetrack took place on June 30 over the East Rutherford, NJ oval, the raceway in which he ascended from being a top catch-driver to a legendary reinsman, arguably the best to ever slip himself onto a race bike. His long list of accolades, which is too long to dissect here, back up much of the discussion. Over the course of his career, the multiple Hall of Famer steered his mounts to over 11,000 victories and $300 million in purses, much of which was earned prior to the introduction of slots-infused purses. Campbell’s final career drive on U.S. soil took place on July 2 at the Goshen Historic Track in New York.

To view the harness racing results for Sunday at Clinton, click the following link: Sunday Results – Clinton Raceway.

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