Daniel Campbell had never been happier in his life than the last six months says his partner of the last four and a half years, Gael Murray. Campbell died instantly in a freak accident after being kicked in the chest while handling a couple of yearling fillies at their West Melton property late last Tuesday afternoon. He was 30.
While he was best perceived in the public eyes as the driver who expertly partnered Christian Cullen in his most memorable moments, in hindsight Campbell actually regretted only being recognised by people for that association, and took much more satisfaction from being accepted by his peers for his all-round ability as a horseman. One of those was Bob Cameron, who recently re-employed him to help out in the mornings.
After stints with Bill Denton while at school, Jeff Whittaker and Frank and then Mick Murfitt, briefly entertaining the idea of being a jockey, Campbell blossomed into the country's leading junior driver with the guidance and opportunities from Cameron in the 1995/96 season with a 23-11-9 record from 136 drives for a UDR of .2361. He won the same number of races in his next and last season as a junior, before teaming up with the Brian O'Meara stable and Christian Cullen on 16 occasions (beaten just once in the GN Derby) and 14 consecutive wins. These included the Round Up 1950 over open class pacers Anvil's Star and Brabham as a three-year-old at the 1997 NZ Cup meeting, the Yearling Sales 3yo Open, Superstars, Ashburton Flying Stakes, NZ Cup, NZ FFA, NSW Miracle Mile, Treuer Memorial, Auckland Cup, a still-standing NZ Record mile at Cambridge in 1:54.1 and a heat of the 1999 Inter-Dominions in Auckland before the In The Pocket entire again went amiss. It was a stunning unbeaten 4-year-old season where they won 12 races and $757,675, and every accolade imaginable.
Campbell, known to family and friends as Daniel, and merely dubbed Danny by the media, was later dismissed from the O'Meara stable over personal differences and had since seemingly been on the outer in the industry. But Murray says he did actually prefer being out of the limelight and keeping a low profile. And contrary to suggestions, he had no ambitions to return to the fore as a reinsman. "He would have liked to have driven one more winner for Bob, and just one drive in the US, but he was becoming increasingly interested in breeding and just loved being around the broodmares and working with the youngsters," said Murray.
"He was a lot happier dealing with horses than some people anyway. He loved being around horses, but he accepted that they were also just a job at the end of the day and not your entire life, and he had a passion and dedication for everthing around him," she added. Murray will remember Campell mostly for his spontaneity and generosity, someone who never did things in halves. Whenever he bought someone a present, it was always a really big one. And he always had to do things himself and quickly, even when he didn't really know what he was doing." Murray accepts that Campbell was a shy and private sort of person, and that some probably found him quite hard to get to know at first, but says he had a wonderful sense of humour when at ease.
Christchurch breeder Les Donald, who had got to know Campbell well in recent years and had three youngsters in work with him, agreed that he was often misunderstood. "I was led to believe initially that Danny might be difficult to get to know, but right from the start I found his help, advice and communication to be second to none," said Donald. "What I actually admired most about him though was his honesty and integrity. He would always try and do the best thing by people," he added.
David Whittle knew Campbell from school in the Addington and Hoon Hay suburbs from when they were only seven, and recalls how along with Nigel McGrath the trio progressed into careers with horses. "I think we were about ten when one day we caught this kid throwing stones at horses in Hoon Hay, and we went to sort him out," said Whittle. "We made him go and pick up all the stones - that was Nigel, and we then became mates," he said.
Campbell lost his mother Carmel to cancer in November, 1996, and his father John in September last year. He had trained a winner at Addington in August, 2000 in Nuclear Sight, who was raced by a family syndicate along with friends. Campbell is survived by an older brother Keith and sisters in Karen and Nicola.
Credit: NZ HRWeekly 7May03