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A Night With The Legends

Published: April 1, 2020 4:52 pm ET

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On Wednesday evening (April 1), Greg Blanchard hosted another roundtable discussion interview with three of harness racing’s most accoladed and most respected driving legends - John Campbell, Bill O’Donnell and Ron Waples.

The interview was streamed on COSA TV and produced by Curtis MacDonald’s CUJO Entertainment. The trio of Hall of Famers revisited some of their most memorable moments on the track as well addressing the current COVID-19 situation.

The conversation initiated with Campbell discussing the current situation in New Jersey surrounding COVID-19 which has now shut racing down all across North America.

“We were very cognitive of what has been going on thanks to my daughter. We have been going through the protocols before they were mandated. Our county has more cases than any of the other states. Things here are not as bad as they are in New York City, but these are certainly concerning times.”

As President of the Hambletonian Society, Campbell is aware of the scrutiny his organization has faced in recent days as a result of the decision to maintain April stake payments.

“We decided as a board on March 22nd based on the information we had then to go ahead with April 15th stake payments. I want to make clear that the only stake that we control is the Breeders Crown, we do administer some other stakes that are due April 15th and I’ve reached out to the tracks involved with those and their decision was to continue with everything on the same schedule as well. But the only one we control is the Breeders Crown and to me delaying or deferring the April 15th I don’t see as a huge benefit because if you are going to defer or delay then you have to come up with a better option. To me, either eliminate it or continue as scheduled."

"We respect Woodbine's decision to eliminate it. However the percent of money that is going to affect their stakes overall is much less than the April 15th payment that we bring in for the Breeders Crown. It would have a significant effect on our purse structure. I am going to be passing around some other ideas with members of my board tomorrow. There is time to make decisions still.”

Speaking on behalf of the racing situation in Ontario was the President of Central Ontario Standardbred Association, Bill O'Donnell.

“Well as everyone knows there has been a task force assembled, which I am a part of and we have had multiple meetings throughout recent weeks. We have an ask in to the Government, nothing is definite but I hope it looks good and we are optimistic that we are going to get some help and relief for the Ontario horsemen. I know we have been saying it for the last few days but hopefully we do hear something in the next few days. We’re not asking for any money per say but we are asking for the money that's been allotted from the Government. Hopefully we hear something positive in the next few days.”

For Ron Waples, mastering the art of what to watch on Netflix has been key while everyone is in self isolation.

“Everyone is all about this tiger show [Tiger King] and I think those tiger guys make horsemen look calm,” Waples laughs.

With all three now retired driving legends having a long list of horses to reminisce on, Blanchard revisited the days of Ralph Hanover and Ron Waples.

“Ralph had manners galore and gait galore, but he was somewhat on the lazy side. Doug Brown deserves a lot of credit in his career, we sent them two to Montreal once, Doug drove him and win with him by 10 or 15 lengths. He knew how to get him riled up and after that he just kept getting better and better. Then as a three-year-old he was pretty much unbeatable. I was sure hoping he was going to be a better sire than he was but he did leave some mares that went on to produce good horses, so he wasn't a complete failure.”

Of course, Waples, Campbell and O’Donnell have spent many nights competing against one another at the highest level.

“We were just young guys doing what we loved out there and driving horses that we never thought as kids we would ever get to drive,” says Campbell.

Perhaps one of the most memorable horses John Campbell had the opportunity to drive throughout his life would be, Life Sign, whom Campbell won the Little Brown Jug with in 1993.

“Life Sign was really good then. He raced extremely well in Detroit going into the Jug. Riyadh was off the gate by quite a bit in his first heat and my thought process was that I could beat him off the gate and cross over before the first turn. However, that failed miserably. It’s hard to drive a horse that bad and have it end up being a memorable Jug. I wasn’t able to make front and had to take back to fourth. Obviously it wasn't my strategy going into the race. The way the race was making out I didn't think I was going to win. A lot of people bring the replay to my attention, it’s a great race to watch. Obviously it was all the horse because it was a terrible drive,” Campbell grins.

If a harness racing Mt. Rushmore was created featuring the greatest race horses of all time, Nihilator surely would be on the ballot, and his driver was none other than Bill O’Donnell.

“The day he broke the world record [1985], he wasn’t coming into that race as good as he could have. He had some lameness issues but he raced as good as a horse could race that day for sure. I had given my Hambletonian whip away after the race, the whip I had was a little flimsy, so it just goes to show you that he was going to win that day regardless."

One of the only horses to beat the great Nihilator, was Armbro Dallas, who was driven by Ron Waples.

“Well the best way to describe that race was that everything that day worked out my way,” chuckles Waples.

Together, the trio of legends further discussed the importance of family values throughout the harness racing industry with the majority of horsemen and women evolving now from racing roots.

Great laughs and great memories shed lights of positivity on the industry during this dark and challenging time.

The feature with Greg Blanchard, Ron Waples, John Campbell and Bill O’Donnell can be viewed below.

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