Twenty-six years after Tagliabue’s moving triumph at Hambleton, Jim Campbell would love to take it all back with Take All Comers


by James Platz

On Saturday afternoon at Meadowlands, coach Jim Campbell will try to reach the top of the sport with Take All Comers in the $ 1 million Hambletonian. A trip to the winner’s circle would be the conditioner’s second in harness racing’s most prestigious event. He won in 1995 with the talented Tagliabue, and is now in his 26th year trying to repeat the feat.

“I base my argument on the difficulty,” said the veteran rider. “26 years ago Tagliabue won the Hambletonian. I have participated in it several times since, but I have not won it. It shows you how difficult it can be to get into it. There are a lot of good coaches who never won it and never raced in it.

Tagliabue won his elimination that day in 1: 54.4 with his brother, John Campbell, in the sulky. The Super Bowl son returned to the final to secure the victory by more than two lengths, delivering the coveted title to owners Jules and Arlene Siegel. Jim remembers taking note of the visual cues offered by his brother as he completed the back half of the winning mile.

“As far as the final goes, what strikes me the most is that John moved it from front to back and as they went through the last corner I was looking at John’s whip and he was lying on his shoulder, “he said. “So I knew Tagliabue had a lot of advantages with him. When they got to halfway down the alley, he hadn’t even moved the whip on him or anything. He just looked like he was riding there comfortable.

As difficult as it may be to reach the Hambletonian, Campbell has managed to put some entrances behind the door lately. Including Saturday, he sent starters in three of the last four finals, missing the 2020 renewal. His best result came in 2018 when Crystal Fashion, the frontrunner and part of a three-horse entry coached by Campbell, took finished fourth.

“It’s hard to get there, for sure. This is something you always pull for whenever you have a hint of hope for the return of a 3 year old trotting colt. This is the race you are aiming for, ”said Jim, who joins Ake Svanstedt as the only coaches in the field this year to win the coveted title. “There are a lot of hills you have to climb to get there. Once there, it’s a great feeling and it’s an honor to be in the final of a race like this.

Take All Comers, a son of Creatine — Nantab, finished fourth for David Miller in an elimination won by captain Corey. After starting from eighth, the trotter sprinted home in: 26.4 to secure his place in the $ 1 million final. The colt shot the far post and is 12-1 on the morning line.

“He had the outside post and Dave had to look over it to see if there would be a little bit of speed at the start which there was. He ended up following Venerate, who was a good horse to follow, and he came home well to secure a place in the final, ”said Jim.

Last year, Take All Comers claimed a win in nine starts, finishing on the board on five more occasions. Taking over Miller’s services, the colt ended the season strong, winning a Bluegrass division at Lexington with a season best time of 1: 52.3. He finished the campaign with a fourth place finish in the $ 600,000 Breeders Crown final at Harrah’s Hoosier Park.

“He finished the year strong. He got a good and solid fourth place in the Breeders Crown final. He won in: 52 at Lexington before that, and he’s a big, strong colt, so that was definitely something we had in mind, ”Jim said of aiming for the Hambletonian.

This season, the runner-up has won two wins in seven starts. The conditioner noted that his charge has the heart and the desire to win, but at times this year circumstances beyond the colt’s control have produced mixed results in the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes action.

“He has a great attitude. He’s the kind of horse that likes to do his job. He always gave us everything he had in each of his races, ”he said. “In the races he was not as good, there was a good excuse which was not his fault. At The Meadows this year, he just didn’t quite get the track. I think he still finished third, but it was not the same. Same thing at Pocono. It was sticking pretty well to the track that day. It wasn’t his best races, but it wasn’t his fault, he was trying to do everything he could.

In his only other offside performance this season, Take All Comers finished third at the Stanley Dancer Memorial, but was disqualified and placed sixth due to interference. A victory on Saturday would not only give Jim Campbell his second Hambletonian triumph, but would signal a breakthrough for Miller on the sport’s biggest stage. The Hall of Fame rider first crossed the wire with What The Hill in 2017, but a disqualification for interference in the stretch erased the victory and instead elevated Perfect Spirit.

“I hope that will change after Saturday for Dave. He has driven a lot of horses for me over the years. He started riding this colt at The Meadows last year and has driven him to every start since then, ”said Jim. “Dave really likes the colt; he gets along well with the foal. Dave and I are hoping for their first victory at Hambo.

As sweet as a win might be for Miller, Campbell would also be delighted to see Take All Comers clinch a win for Scott Farber and his Runthetable Stables. Last fall, the relationships teamed up to win a Breeders Crown Championship with Next Level Stuff. Now they are aiming for the top with his half-brother.

“It would be really great, especially for Scott. He also bred this colt. He’s been very loyal, ”said the 59-year-old coach, winner of more than 1,300 races in his career. “We had years that weren’t so good and a lot of bad things happened in those years in terms of racing. He hung in there, he was dedicated and loyal to me. Having a year like last year has been very enjoyable for both of us. Scott is a gamer. If he does well in this game, he comes back. Hopefully, we can continue the role and keep Scott very active in the game.

Campbell noted that in the ’80s a good horse might not be at the top of its game, but could still manage to win a stakes race. Today speed and skill are prevalent making it difficult for a colt to show off less than their best and claim victory.

“These horses today, they all go fast. You have 10 of the best trotters in the country taking part in the Hambletonian final, ”he said. “They didn’t make it because they can’t go. I think any of the 10 can appear and win. It all depends on how the trip unfolds. It should be a good horse race.

In 1995, Campbell handed the reins to his brother that August afternoon and later found himself celebrating in the winner’s circle. Perhaps on Saturday his brother, now president of the Hambletonian Society, will have the honor of presenting the cherished trophy to his brother. A story that has lasted for 26 years. What a spectacle that would be.

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