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Nov 18, 2005

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


This has been an especially sad week for thoroughbred racing. And I'm not talking about the escalating problems at NYRA, which prompted the resignation of Barry Schwartz from the board, or the sordid developments surrounding the Jockeys' Guild scandal.

No, I'm taking about life and death issues. The deaths of celebrated New York trainer John Campo. And a young jockey named Josh Radosevich.

Unless you have ties to Ohio racing, you probably don't know the name Josh Radosevich. He was an up and coming apprentice who rode daily at Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio.

Radosevich lost his life on Wednesday when he fell from his horse in the third race at Beulah, and was trampled. He had started his career on Oct. 6, and did remarkably well. He rode 19 winners from 92 mounts.

Chances are if you bet the Beulah simulcasts, you probably cashed some tickets on Josh Radosevich. And you probably thought: hey, this kid can ride.

Yea, he was a kid. He was 16 years old.

A funeral mass will be held Monday at 11am at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Grove City.

Unfortunately, it takes the death of a young rider for us to remember that jocks risk their lives every time they leave the paddock. You might remember that every time you think about booing them.

Unlike Josh Radosevich, John Campo had the opportunity to live a long life - and he lived life to its fullest - at least until he was felled by a stroke in the early '90s.

John Campo truly was the most colorful -- and arguably the most knowledgeable -- horse trainer of his era - an era that coincided with my tenure as the New York Post beat writer.

Two memories come quickly to mind --

The 1981 Kentucky Derby. Campo had a nice colt named Pleasant Colony in the race. It was John's first Derby and my second. Neither of us knew how to get from the paddock upstairs in time to see the race live, so we hooked up, and found a 10-inch black and white TV down in the bowels of Churchill Downs.

On that small TV, there was no way to find Pleasant Colony. And Campo was screaming bloody murder. His target of course was his rider, Jorge Velasquez. Language like this I never heard in the Army.

Then, suddenly, at the top of the screen there was a dark brown horse circling the field. Blue and white silks. Pleasant Colony.

"Come on, George. Come on, George," Campo, his face beet red, screamed at the screen.

And, of course, Pleasant Colony got there.

Campo, waving his arms and pumping his fists, ran out on the racetrack to greet his horse, with this reporter doing his best to keep up. After all, I was as happy as he was. I had picked Pleasant Colony on top in the Post (thereby saving my job for another year), and I might have even put a 20 on him. I don't remember.

When I got to the press box, I discovered that Woodchopper, a 50-1 shot, finished second. That means I nailed the $500 exacta in the Post, and it made me the winner of the press box handicapping contest. The first prize - a set of Derby glass mugs - still gathers dust in my garage.

As for Pleasant Colony, he went on to win the Preakness, but was upset by Summing, ridden by press box buddy George Martens, in the Belmont.

My other favorite Campo story:

During one of those rare times that Campo was talking to me, he invited me to a track party at a restaurant across the street from Aqueduct. This was not your kids' pizza party. One of the highlights was a well-known lady jockey stripping on stage. You get the idea.

As the evening was winding down, Campo grabbed me by the collar, and led me into the kitchen.

Campo: "Piesen, you weren't here tonight. You got that!"

Piesen: "John, I got it."

In addition to being a great trainer in his own right, John Campo was a trainer of trainers, notably Nick Zito, John Parisella and Bruce Levine.

"The sad thing," says Zito, "is that it takes a death to realize how great a trainer Campo was. He trained a 2-year-old colt champion (Protagonist) and a 2-year-old filly champion (Talking Picture) the same year, and he won the Derby along with a lot of other races. He had a flair for the game. Some people may have taken him for arrogant, but there were a lot of people who enjoyed his style.

"John was a very proud man who enjoyed life. He came from humble beginnings, and he came on the scene at a time when he showed the world that the little guy, the guy who had to work from the ground up, could be a success in this business."

"John was a genius," says Parisella. "Everything he did, he did really well, and he had an incredible work ethic. This man should be in the Hall of Fame. I worked for him for two years from 1967 to 1969. One day, after working every day for two years from 6 in the morning to 10 at night, I asked for a day off.

"He said to me: "What, are you a big shot now? Do you see me take days off? But go ahead, you want to be a wimp, take your day off."

"That gave me my work ethic, and I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for John Campo. He made everyone feel alive. He just loved what he was doing."

Parisella is right. John Campo belongs in the Hall of Fame. It's not a hall of fame without him.

It's good to see that the Campo name lives on. One son, P.J. Campo, is the racing secretary at NYRA, and John Jr. is a horse trainer. In fact, he saddled a winner at Aqueduct on the eve of his father's death.

Meanwhile, Juan Serey, another of our favorite trainers, is back in the news.

After starting his comeback last summer at Monmouth Park, Serey, on Saturday, will saddle his first New York starter in three-plus years - Jetterina in race four.

Good luck, Juan.



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