Day At The Track

Ray Campbell Jr.: Massachusetts breeding & stakes

01:14 AM 27 Oct 2020 NZDT
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Plainville, MA --- Aside from being the most prolific Standardbred breeders in the state, Ray Campbell Jr. is also the president of the Standardbred Owners of Massachusetts. He has been involved in the sport for most of his life and has seen first hand the ups and downs of breeding and racing in Massachusetts, as well as the growth it has experienced in recent years.

Campbell's first interaction with harness racing was at a yearling sale at Young Meadow Farm (now the UMass Equine Research Farm in Hadley). They held fair racing there years ago over a five-eighth's mile track, but there were also stallions standing at the farm.

"My interest in the beginning was fair racing. Back in the 80's and 90's there were multiple venues from the western part of the state to the central part and it was typical fair racing only without the fair. You would race out of your trailer for a couple thousand dollars and a cooler and it was really all about the competition," said Campbell.

Campbell transitioned and started breeding in the early 1990's, standing his first stallion at Sawmill River Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts. He then started buying broodmares and it became a family enterprise.

"My father and I were all hands on deck with the whole operation. Our focus was to race horses in Massachusetts but also have some that could compete in New York," Campbell explained. "Then about 20 years ago the fairs started fading away, Foxboro closed and the sport had pretty much come to a halt here. It changed everything."

However everything changed again, only this time for the better after the Race Horse Development Fund was instituted in 2015. Since that time breeding and the performance of the horses that were bred has improved exponentially each year and people who would have never thought of racing young horses in the commonwealth, now want in.

"First and foremost there is a much greater degree of interest. Next there are inquiries about "how do I get involved?" Now we have more people participating each year and that is driving the number of eligible resident mares up each year," said Campbell. "As the horse population grew, farms were in great demand and stalls were hard to find. Eventually that improved as some farms started to pop up and reclaimed some of the land and now there's more availability for boarding."

Campbell explained that the issues people had trying to race in years past are gone and have now been replaced with opportunity.

"It was difficult before when you had 2 and 3-year-olds here, you just couldn't get them raced. You would find yourself in races with added conditions facing older horses. But they have really done a great job with enhanced purses and restricted races and that has been very good for the program," explained Campbell. "It's a terrific thing to have young horses racing here now, although the racing is tough; there is nowhere to hide. I've been doing this a long time and the days of two and three horse fields are a thing of the past."

In recent years the track and stake records have continued to be broken and that is a true indicator of how far the program has really come. And that shouldn't really be a surprise because of the number of quality mares that have been bred. There are currently 146 eligible to race as 2-year-olds in 2021 and that number seems to climb year after year.

"To keep the program moving forward and growing, it's vital to have Plainridge Park remain a thriving and viable venue. This keeps people engaged in the sport and the revenue that it, along with the other casinos generate, help fund the RHDF which in turn makes the stakes a worthwhile investment that people want to get involved in," concluded Campbell.

The finest Massachusetts-bred Standardbreds will be on display Monday (Oct. 26) when the $720,000 Massachusetts Sire Stake finals will be held at Plainridge Park. Post time is at 2 p.m.

By Tim Bojarski, for the Standardbred Owners of Massachusetts
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