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Driving two 4-5 morning-line favourites, Campbell wins both major stakes at Century Mile

Dec 02,2020 Curtis Stock for Horse Racing Alberta

There’s tough and then there’s Brandon Campbell tough. After being involved in an accident in the fourth race which saw two drivers get hurt, Campbell was fortunate to get up and walk back to the paddock to continue on with his driving assignments. It was a visit to the hospital the next morning where he discovered he had broken both his wrists.

Campbell won both of Alberta’s premier harness races on Sunday at Century Mile - the $92,840 Western Canada Pacing Derby with Major Custard and the $88,320 Don Byrne Memorial with Probert.  “You don’t get a chance to drive two 4-5 morning-line favourites in two big stakes races very often and I’d never won the Derby before. It was the last big race on my check list. I really wanted to win that race badly. It was also the first time I got to sit behind Probert. What a weapon she is. A bag of oats could have driven her.”

Campbell, snapped the scaphoid bone in his left wrist in half and fractured the scaphoid bone in his right wrist. “I’ve been hurt lots before. I broke three ribs once when a horse pinned me against the trailer and I still drove that night. Last year I broke my ankle twice,” continued Campbell, who will now be out of action for four-to-six weeks.

Major Custard’s trainer Mike Campbell said what Brandon Campbell did was “Unbelievable. I’ve never seen someone drive with two broken wrists. And then to win the two biggest races of the year in Alberta. “

While Brandon Campbell had an easy time with Probert in the Don Byrne - leaving from Post 2; letting longshot Past Affair go by going into the first turn and then pulling early down the backstretch to reclaim the lead and never looking back — Brandon had to use all his wiles and skills to win the Derby with Major Custard.

Getting away way back in seventh place, Major Custard made his move down the backstretch only to get completely boxed-in with horses in front, behind, to his left and to his right. It looked grim for the longest time but Mike Campbell said he wasn’t overly worried. “It was pretty wild with horses stacked up around the final turn but I figured with the long stretch at Century Mile that he’d get room. I figured he’d get some room at some point.”

“Everybody seemed to come to a walk real quick; all of a sudden there were horses everywhere,” said Brandon. Just past the eighth pole, Major Custard did find that room he needed and then stormed past the stacked-up and crowded field to win going away by two and a half lengths in 1:54 4/5. “Once we had clear sailing I knew we were good,” said Brandon.

Returning $3.30 to win, the Derby was vindication with a couple of exclamation points for Major Custard, who had finished a lethargic third as the 1-9 favourite in the previous weekend’s elimination legs. But Mike Campbell wasn’t too worried about that either. “I had faith that he would bounce back,” Campbell said of Major Custard, who had gone into those eliminations with 17 wins in a row and an unblemished record of 13 wins in 13 starts this year. “If he was healthy I knew they’d have a hard time with him.”

Mike said there wasn’t one factor for Major Custard’s loss in the eliminations. Instead there were a variety of reasons. “There was the ship over the mountains. He had a minor throat infection. It was his first start on the mile track and then there was reunion of Major Custard with Brandon Campbell. “Phil (Giescbrecht) didn’t do anything wrong but having his regular driver back helped; Brandon knows Major Custard’s quirks.” Even if he was driving with two broken wrists and had to wiggle his way through traffic.

“Major Custard can be a funny horse to drive,” acknowledged Brandon. “If you aren’t paying attention he can go to sleep on you pretty quick. I think that might have happened to Phil. That’s one nice colt but Major Custard may have fallen asleep.” Owned by Surrey, B.C.’s Jim Marino and Prince George B.C.’s Rick Mowles, Major Custard picked up $46,420 for the win to run his career earnings to a staggering $315,695.

Two races before the Derby, Brandon Campbell drove Probert to the win in the Don Byrne. “She was on her game again,” understated Probert’s trainer Chris Lancaster of the three-year-old filly’s of the very easy four-length triumph over stablemate Custards Crown in 1:53 flat. “She went almost two seconds faster than the boys,” enthused Lancaster. “And she won it pretty handily.”

“The first quarter was entertaining,” Lancaster said of the opening fraction of :26 3/5. “But it was kind of boring after that which was nice. No stress at all,” he said after Probert backed the pace down with a second quarter in a leisurely 30 seconds flat to get the half in :56 3/5 before pacing her last half in a very tidy :56 2/5.

The strategy for Probert, who paid just $2.50 to win, was pretty simple. “Go to the front and not look back,” said Lancaster of Langley, B.C.’s Rod Therres’ wonderfully talented filly who has now won 15 of her 20 career starts. In Alberta, Probert has only lost one race in 16 outings. “She got the lead, relaxed and settled nicely for me,” said Brandon. “All I had to do was hold on. That was a wicked mile she put in.”

Winning $44,160 on Sunday, Probert has now won $234,600. The victory also earned Probert a trip back to Ontario. “We’ll race her a handful of times here and then send her back east,” said Lancaster. Probert made four starts in Ontario last year but could only manage one third-place finish. But Lancaster predicts this next venture will be much more fruitful.

“She had a bit of a virus and never really raced to her full potential. She’s a year older and she looks a lot better,” said Lancaster. “She’s very talented.” A winner of seven in a row, this was the second straight Don Byrne victory for Lancaster who won it last year with Lady Neigh Neigh, who crossed the finish line second but was elevated to first after a disqualification to stablemate Rockin Mystery.

Owned by Lancaster and Chris Lambie, Lady Neigh Neigh will now, ironically enough, race against Probert this weekend. “Lady Neigh Neigh got a little sick towards the end of the meet at (Calgary’s) Century Downs. We gave her three weeks off, she finished second in her first start back and then won her last two.

“It’s great to have won this prestigious race two years in a row and cross the finish line first and second two years in a row . “It’s been a fun ride.”

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