Day At The Track

Brown compares Campbell to hockey legend

03:59 AM 21 Jul 2017 NZST
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Doug Brown
Doug Brown
Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame Photo

Clinton, ON --- Driver Doug Brown has won eight Canadian Driver of the Year awards, a stack of driver titles on the Toronto harness racing circuit and earned a berth in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, yet he thinks fellow Hall of Famer John Campbell stands above all others.

“There’s just no question that he’s just been the greatest driver ever. It’s just fantastic to see what he’s done over the 40 years he’s been doing it,” Brown said, before comparing Campbell to a hockey legend. “I often compare him to Bobby Orr -- both on and off the track or ice. They’re very similar and I’ve got so much respect for them.”

Brown, 61, has won nearly 8,500 races and $87 million. He said he’s delighted to be part of Campbell’s final career drive on July 30 at Clinton Raceway during Legends Day, but he’s not planning to make it easy for Campbell to go out a winner.

“I’m sure we’re all hoping he wins his last drive, but it’s not going to stop anybody from trying to win themselves,” Brown said, chuckling.

Campbell, a career winner of more than 10,000 races and $300 million, tops the sport in earnings by a wide margin. On July 1, he became the president and CEO of the Hambletonian Society, which owns and operates a number of major stakes races, including the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown series.

In the C$15,000 Legends Day Trot, Brown and Campbell will also be taking on Hall of Famers Bill O’Donnell (5,445, $90 million) -- who is also retiring after the race -- as well as Mike Lachance (10,422, $190 million), Steve Condren (6,850 wins and $106 million), Ron Waples (6,923 wins, $74 million), David Miller (12,205 wins, $216 million) and Dave Wall (7,201, $58 million). The race is part of the ninth edition of the track’s biennial Legends Day, which is raising money for the Clinton Public Hospital Foundation.

Combined, the eight legends have earned more than $1.15 billion and won nearly 69,000 races.

Fellow legends Bud Fritz and 93-year-old Keith Waples -- both of whom are retired from driving -- will also be on hand for the autograph session.

Brown said he has a blast at Legends Day and is pleasantly surprised at the fan reaction.

“Getting together with all of those (fellow legends) for a few hours is pretty fun. You get to tell old stories, but the crowd is the main thing. That place is just packed and it makes you wonder how they can come back every two years, the same people, but they are there,” Brown said.

Brown’s road to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame began in Oshawa, Ontario at his father Stan’s knee. Doug eagerly absorbed his father’s lessons and was just 17 when he earned his driver’s license. He quickly picked up his first win with a horse named Out Ahead at Kawartha Downs. While he called the Peterborough track home, he made his mark in the big city as top dog on Toronto’s old Ontario Jockey Club circuit in the 1980s and 1990s.

Despite once having a fan throw a beer bottle at him at Greenwood Raceway in downtown Toronto (the bottle bounced, harmlessly, off his helmet), Doug has fond memories of Greenwood Raceway.

“It was incredible. People were lined up getting in and that’s back when you had to pay to get in. As huge as that grandstand was, it was nearly full night after night,” Brown said. “When we went to Woodbine, I said after the first three or four days to one of the other guys, ‘You know what, I never thought I’d miss people yelling at me, but…’ At Woodbine, they were so far away you couldn’t hear them.

“Most of the guys that raced back then, everyone misses Greenwood because it was downtown. People could walk to it, take a streetcar. It was just an incredible place.”

For 10 consecutive years from 1988-1997, Doug held a firm grip on the OJC’s driver standings where he averaged 345.5 wins per year over the stretch. He was the circuit’s first driver to break the 400-win plateau, accomplishing it twice in back-to-back seasons with 411 (1994) and 417 (in 1995). It was no easy feat considering the depth of competition. Night after night, Doug battled with such luminaries as fellow Legends Day drivers Condren and Wall, as well as Paul MacDonell, Roger Mayotte and Mike Saftic. Doug was the king of the pre-slots era. He was the first OJC driver to top both $4 million (1989) and $5 million (1995) in a single season.

Four of Doug’s eight Canadian Driver of the Year awards came in a row from 1993-1996. Seven of those awards came between 1989 and 1996.

Over 40 years in the sulky, Doug has won five Breeders Crowns with Town Pro (twice), Headline Hanover, Topnotcher and Digger Almahurst; the Metro Pace (Historic, 1993); Maple Leaf Trot (Plesac, 2001); Yonkers Trot (Lord Stormont, 1997); World Trotting Derby (Lord Stormont, 1997); Cane Pace (Topnotcher, 1989); Roses Are Red (Shady Daisy, 1992); and Confederation Cup three times (BJ Scoot, 1988; Topnotcher, 1989; and Survivor Gold, 1992).

In 1995, he drove Canada’s first sub-1:50 mile with Ball And Chain, when he upset Pacific Rocket and Ellamony in 1:49.4 at Woodbine.

Doug was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame in 2006. He is a member of the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame and was selected as the Harness Horse Youth Foundation’s recipient of the 1998 Service to Youth Award. In 1997, he was the winner of the prestigious Messenger Award from Harness Tracks of America for outstanding accomplishment and meritorious service to the sport.

Yet, despite all of that, he said what he cherishes most from his career is the long-time relationship with Hall of Fame trainer Stew Firlotte.

“Probably the biggest thing in my career was being hooked up with Stew Firlotte for close to 35 years. That just doesn’t happen. When the catch driver (era) came around, we were getting hired and fired and hired back and fired again, but with Stew it was more like a father-son, best friend thing. He and Joanne are godparents to one of our kids. I really value the dedication between the two of us.

“I’d just love to see (Firlotte’s) record, as far as getting 2-year-olds to the races. His percentages must have been just incredible, because I hardly remember any of them that didn’t make the races. He was just a great horseman. Our relationship was probably the proudest moment for me; we just had so much fun together.”

For more information about Legends Day, please visit www.clintonraceway.com.

Clinton Raceway 
 

 

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