VETERAN trainer Doug Campbell has hit 76 years of age, but he can still teach most others a
lesson in horsemanship, and, in fact, true, old-school humility and an authentic love for racing.
Campbell posted a fine hat-trick of wins at Scottsville on Sunday and he said he’s not sticking
in his clock card before he can train another Durban July runner.
Campbell saddled the excellent stakes winner Dawson Trail to compete in the 1988 Rothmans July, a race won by Terrance Millard’s Royal Chalice, and says he will probably train. “until he falls over!” (A number of us love the game that much, MrCampbell, you’re not alone!).
Campbell’s first winner on Sunday was expected, the other two were pleasant surprises for him, but in this sport a winner is a winner no matter what, as Gold Circle’s journo Andrew Harrison pointed out in his Monday editorial.
The cleverly named Vunderbar (VAR) came up trumps in the card opener as Donovan Dillon got the best out of the gelding to beat the well fancied favourite Calvino.
The International Racing Club’s Harper’s Dream (Querari) was next up for Campbell as his filly outduelled Nirvana Girl and Late Night Live, Harper’s Dream starting at 29-1 and paying R25 on the tote.
The big exotic bet bomb exploded in the fourth as Kevin Soal’s Vitus Beiring (Eightfold Path) got up under replacement rider Muzi Yeni. As Campbellexplained, he was not keen to run the gelding onthe Hollywoodbets Greyville poly and with Scottsville in mothballs for its annual spring treatment forthe next two months, he had no option but to run from his wide gate.
“This was a good day at the office after our poor last season,” Campbell told Turf Talk. “Last season was my worst in 40 years of training, we saddled only 8 winners.”
Campbell, who has consistently trained in the 30-60 winner range for decades longer than today’s woke generation has counted Instagram followers and employment rejection mails, said that his five on the board was a satisfying start, following winsby Eden Garden Glitz and Farland last week.
“All the old-timers will tell you about racing’s up -and-down cycles, but it’s never really been as bad as this, with Covid-19 and the operators’ troubles and disagreements and so on. But
here we are, still saddling and racing and enjoying it.”
He started training at Sugarhill Stables, the family farm near Richmond, KZN, in 1970, sending jumping ponies to Port Elizabeth, and was granted his racehorse trainers’ licence after some wrestling with the old Jockey Club, in 1978.
Winners flowed in quick succession, including the mentioned Dawson Trail, Maisons Laffitte, Kirklevington, King’s Bay, Mystery Guest and National Navigator, to mention just a few, and Doug recalls: “We also had a Gold Cup favourite in Escapist, who was injured a week before the race and had to bewithdrawn.”
His other of many interesting stories involves Northern Guest’s pure-white grey daughter, Mystery Guest (Northern Guest), who bolted the old Gosforth Park track moments before the 1989 Gr1 Fillies Guineas.
“The vet, Dr Macdonald, insisted that Mystery Guest was to be scratched. I was furious with jockey Kevin Shea. She ran around the entire track. But I said to the stipes, ‘I haven’t come all this way to have my horse scratched’, and they left her in. Kevin, the master (Pastor) rode her to a big surprise win, and he was forgiven!”
Sugarhill Stables is a beautiful 50-acre property outside of Pietermaritzburg. Campbell sold his adjacent stud farm a few years ago and he told: “The buyer was going to develop it as a pre-training centre, butthings went pear-shaped and it has now beenre-sold to a vegetable farmer who was appointed byour government. I am very sad, it was a great facility
with stables, tracks and trees, ones that I planted myself.”
His own facility is still first-class, with 70 self-built stables, three grass tracks, a sand track and anequine pool.
Campbell said: “I have only 35 runners in training now, but 20 other boxes are filled with injured and recovering horses. A few years ago I wrote to fellow KZN trainers, they’ve been sending injured horses to me to assist in recovery. Lezeanne Forbes and Paul Gadsby have been helpful.
Lezeanne and the International Racing Club introduced me to Suzette Viljoen, a wonderful patron who has been a blessing with her sending of injured horses. That has kept us going.”
Campbell still breeds with four of his own mares, has a few “nice babies” and said: “At this age, as I’m sure it is with some other older trainers, my patrons have either retired or passed away. But we go on, we do.
“Owner Pat Robinson is still with me. His dad gave me my first pony when I was nagging my
parents at a pony show as an eight-year-old, oh, way back when. Pat and Anthony Withey
own Vunderbar who won on Sunday, a nice horse who will win again. Pat also a share of
the IRC’s Harper’s Dream. These wins make it all worthwhile, still!
“You know, things happen. I went to a Polo Tournament a while ago and by chance met a true gentleman called Kevin Soal, who sent me four horses, including Vitus Beiring. The great game brings people together, always.”
Doug’s wife Di (they met in their teens), is his assistant trainer and he said: “Di is as good a horse woman as you will find, she’s a spot-on trainer, my rock.”
Their children are horse-mad too, no surprise. Daughter Luella, (yes, the one and only!) is married to quality horseman and trainer Mike Robinson, and fulfils the same supporting role for Mike at Philippi as her mother does for her dad at Sugarhill; and son Stuart is based in Florida, a professional and successful Polo Player.
“We try to visit Stuart every year for three weeks, during which I appoint a temp trainer at the farm. He is doing well, he wants us to move to the US and he’ll set me up there, but Sugarhill is our home.”
Stick around, Mr Campbell!