Brandon Campbell won the 2016 National Driving Championship (NDC) on Friday, Oct. 14 at The Raceway at the Western Fair District in London, Ont. and will represent Canada in the 2017 World Driving Championship, which will be hosted by Standardbred Canada at racetracks across the country next August.
Campbell accumulated the most points during the eight-race driving tournament over seven other top Canadian reinsmen to earn the honours of representing his country on the international stage.
The 33-year-old reinsman from Calgary, Alta. advanced to the National Driving Championship after winning the Western Regional Driving Championship this past June at Century Downs Racetrack and Casino -- one of four regional tournaments from which the top two point earners advanced to the NDC. This was Campbell's third time competing in the NDC and his first victory.
Dan Gall, President & CEO of Standardbred Canada, and Mike Woods, Chief Operating Officer of Western Fair District, flank 2016 National Driving Champion Brandon Campbell (Western Fair District)
"I've done this three times now, I'm thrilled," said Campbell. "I don't even know what to say."
Campbell put together a string of runner-up finishes in four straight legs of the NDC to remain a contender throughout the heated competition in which seven different drivers earned wins.
Campbell padded his leading point total with his first victory of the tournament in the seventh leg, guiding Wacky Rei ($4.90) to victory for owner and trainer Cliff McGuire. He secured the lead from the inside post with the four-year-old pacing mare and held off the pocket-pulling Shesastarreporter and James MacDonald in a photo finish for the 1:58 victory.
Brandon Campbell wins the seventh NDC leg with Wacky Rei (Western Fair District)
While Campbell said he was confident in his chances of winning the NDC title, there was an anxious moment when his mount broke stride at the start of the final race leaving the door wide open for James MacDonald, the runner-up in the point standings, to steal the glory with a first or second-place finish.
"There were tears. I was crying a little bit," Campbell said of his reaction when he was taken out of contention in the final leg. "I was watching James second over, he was the first or second favourite, and I thought it was all over. He went to move her and she didn't have any go and I started cheering again 'go boys go.'"
MacDonald finished sixth in the final race, won by longshot winner Ivegotmyeyeonu and Trevor Henry, and was unable to catch Campbell atop the leaderboard.
Campbell secured the 2016 National Driving Championship title with 63 points while James MacDonald finished second with 57 points. Jason Hughes, the only two-leg winner in the competition, was third with 52 points. Jim Marino (50 points), Brett MacDonald (47), Henry (45), Guy Gagnon (32) and Corey MacPherson (30) completed the order of finish.
The National Driving Championship consisted of races two through six and eight through 10 on the Friday program at The Raceway. Drivers were able to have input into the horses they drove as a hockey pool style “draft” was conducted Tuesday for them to choose their horses in each race before the post position draw was made.
The 2016 NDC drivers: Guy Gagnon, Jim Marino, Jason Hughes, Trevor Henry, Brandon Campbell, James MacDonald, Corey MacPherson and Brett MacDonald (Western Fair District)
FINAL POINT TOTALS
1. Brandon Campbell - 63
2. James MacDonald - 57
3. Jason Hughes - 52
4. Jim Marino - 50
5. Brett MacDonald - 47
6. Trevor Henry - 45
7. Guy Gagnon - 32
8. Corey MacPherson - 30
Leg 1: Guy Gagnon opened the 2016 National Driving Championship with a victory in the first leg aboard race favourite Team Leader ($3.40) to take the early lead in the point standings. Leaving from post two, Gagnon and the four-year-old pacing mare overtook insider Stonebridge Suntan (Jim Marino) in the first turn and cruised to a three and a half length victory in 1:57.4. Stonebridge Suntan followed in second-place and Twin B Virtue (Jason Hughes) finished third.
Leg 2: Brett MacDonald overcame his post eight start to win the second leg of the competition with sophomore trotter Tuscans Memory ($8.80) in 2:03.2. After getting away third off the gate, MacDonald and Tuscans Memory were flushed first over on the way to the half-mile mark and wore down the favoured Don Jarvis (Trevor Henry) in the stretch before holding off the late-closing Typhoon Seelster (Brandon Campbell) in a close finish. Back To Black (James MacDonald) finished third over Don Jarvis.
"He's a good horse so I just wanted to make sure he was in it and it worked out," said MacDonald after the race. "It was close [at the wire]. I just crossed my fingers and hoped he kept going."
With the victory, Brett MacDonald moved into a tie with Gagnon atop the point standings.
Leg 3: Jason Hughes was victorious in the third leg after making a huge backstretch move with the five-year-old pacing mare Johannahs Jet ($18.30). Hughes and Johannahs Jet circled three-wide from the backfield to take the lead just past the third quarter mark and drew off to win by four and three-quarter lengths in 2:00 over pacesetter Raiders Hall (Campbell). Poetic Dream (Marino) came through for third ahead of Whosur Filly (Henry).
"I talked to the trainer before the race there and he told me to conserve as much as I could," said Hughes of his racing strategy. "She had lots at the end."
Campbell took the lead in the point standings while Hughes climbed to second-place, just one point behind (24-23).
Leg 4: Jim Marino also visited the winner's circle after guiding 12-year-old pacer Montreal Phil ($15) wire-to-wire in 1:55.4 in the fourth leg. Campbell came on to finish second for the third straight leg of the competition with Twin B Shadow while favourite Terror Suspect (James MacDonald) followed in third off a pocket trip.
"Nice horse, classy horse, lots of gate speed and took advantage of it," commented Marino, who moved ahead of Campbell in the point standings with the victory (36-34).
Leg 5: James MacDonald scored his first victory of the competition in the fifth leg with Tinas War ($13.70) prevailing from post eight. After Natural Grace (Henry) won a first quarter duel, MacDonald sent five-year-old trotting mare Tinas War in pursuit of the leader from fifth. They cleared at the third quarter mark and prevailed by two and a half lengths in 2:01.3. Race favourite KS Hall secured a pocket trip early on and overtook Natural Grace in the stretch to give Campbell his fourth straight runner-up finish and propel him back to the top of the point standings ahead of Marino. James MacDonald climbed to third-place on the leaderboard.
Leg 6: Jason Hughes was the first repeat winner of the eight-race competition, prevailing with Hp Black Shadow ($18.30) in the sixth leg. Hughes and four-year-old pacer Hp Black Shadow followed Little Turk (Marino) three-wide down the backstretch and rallied past that rival and longshot leader R M Hawk (Campbell) in the stretch to score in 1:57 flat. Artistic Cruiser (James MacDonald) finished second off a pocket trip while Little Turk finished third in a dead-heat with Little Quick (Brett MacDonald).
"I talked to [trainer] Victor [Puddy] before the race there and he told me to try to keep him relaxed beforehand and I tried to give him a trip...I just got some cover there and followed down the backstretch and he was large," said Hughes, who moved to fourth-place in the standings with 42 points, trailing leader Brandon Campbell by just five points with two legs left. "I got a couple good ones to finish it off so we'll see what happens."
Leg 7: Brandon Campbell padded his leading point total with his first victory of the National Driving Championship in the seventh leg in rein to Wacky Rei ($4.90). Campbell secured the lead from the inside post with the four-year-old pacing mare and fought off Holiday Romance (Henry) before holding off the pocket-pulling Shesastarreporter (James MacDonald) in a photo finish for the 1:58 victory. Holiday Romance finished third.
Campbell leads with 62 points going into the final leg while James MacDonald sits second with 54.
Leg 8: Trevor Henry was victorious in the final leg of the competition, pulling off a 21-1 upset aboard Ivegotmyeyeonu ($45.20). Henry forged to the front from post two with the six-year-old pacing mare, who was the longest shot on the board, and persisted on the lead for the 1:59.4 victory despite their competition fanning five-wide turning for home. No Teasing Me (Corey MacPherson) finished one and three-quarter lengths behind in second off a two-hole trip while Good Luck Kathy (Brett MacDonald) was third after challenging first over.
Despite his mount breaking stride at the start of the race, Campbell maintained his lead in the point standings to secure the 2016 National Driving Championship title with 63 points. James MacDonald finished second with 57 points and Hughes was third with 52 points.
The National Driving Championship will adapt the point system utilized in the World Driving Championship. Points will be awarded on the order of finish as follows:
Number of Starters: 8
15 points (1st place), 10 (2nd), 7 (3rd), 5 (4th), 4 (5th), 3 (6th), 2 (7th), 1 (8th)
In the event of a scratch where an also-eligible is not available, the driver will receive five points.
To download a printable NDC scorecard, click the following link: 2016 NDC Scorecard.
To watch live online streaming of the tournament at The Raceway, click here.
To view Friday's harness racing results, click on the following link: Friday Results.
For news coverage leading up to the National Driving Championship, click here.