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Campbell Brothers To Co-Star In Hambletonian

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Published: July 31, 2011 7:16 pm ET

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The stage is set for Opening Night and its original lead is back at the helm for a possible encore. John Campbell, who was unsuccessful in his bid to reach the Hambletonian with Live Jazz, will drive Opening Night in Saturday's $1.5 million final.

Opening Night finished fourth in Saturday's second Hambletonian elimination, flying down the stretch with a :28.2 final quarter to advance to harness racing's richest and most-celebrated event. He was driven by Brian Sears for trainer Jim Campbell.

Jim now turns to a familiar face, his brother and no stranger to this race, John Campbell, who is seeking his record seventh Hambletonian crown and his first since leading Glidemaster in the 2006 final. In last year's race, John drove favourite Lucky Chucky and finished second as Muscle Massive and Ron Pierce rallied for the victory with a 1:51 finish, the second fastest time ever recorded in the Hambletonian.

John, who will be the fifth driver change in Opening Night's last five races, had the horse's first drive this year, on May 17, and finished second in a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at The Meadows.

John was then unfortunately sidelined as the result of a racing accident on May 30 at Harrah's Chester. His injuries included a broken right shoulder and broken right knee. He got off crutches two weeks ago and returned to the track Saturday night to drive Live Jazz, a colt he co-owns, in the Hambletonian eliminations. Live Jazz finished ninth, ironically in the same elim with Opening Night.

"Originally, this was John's mount all along," Jim said. "The owners and I spoke Sunday morning and we wanted him back on. I spoke with Brian earlier this morning and he did a great job getting us here and we have no hard feelings towards him at all, but we just wanted to go this route."

"Physically, I feel fine, really no issues whatsoever, I just wished my horse raced better," said John. "I got the call this morning [Sunday] and I never say no to a Hambletonian opportunity, so I'm looking forward to it."

This is only the second time the brother tandem has teamed up in the Hambo final. The other: 1995 as they won the 70th edition of the race by two lengths with Tagliabue, recording a time of 1:54.4.

Two weeks ago, Jim made a slight adjustment to Opening Night, which he hoped would pay off in Saturday's elimination.

"I made an adjustment at Pocono Downs [where he won his last two races] by lightening his shoes for the speed, to get ready for the elim," said Jim. "I think we're pretty much set in leaving him the same for the final.

"I didn't like the trip [in the elim], but you know he got to the final and that is the main thing," he added. "I thought the horse raced very good. He had lots of trot finishing. I wasn't sure how it was going to work out because we got shuffled back to last, but I was happy to get the chance to go for this week's final. With the way he has been racing, I think we would have been crazy not to take a shot and go for it. We did and it paid off for us."

In eight starts this year, Opening Night has three victories and two seconds. In 2010, he had the same amount of starts with two wins, a second and two third-place finishes.

"The horse came out really good after the race and we hope we have a great week and a decent post position. That's all you can ask for," Jim said.

(Meadowlands Racetrack)


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