Welcome Home, Joel Campbell!
Returning home can be an appealing prospect…just ask jockey Joel Campbell. After several years of plying his trade elsewhere, Campbell has decided to return to Chicago.
Joel Campbell is the twin brother of jockey Jesse Campbell. Jesse is currently riding at the Fair Grounds.
The Campbell twins were born, appropriately enough, in Twinsburg, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. The year was 1977. The Campbell family moved to Lake Zurich, Illinois, where the Campbell twins graduated from Lake Zurich High School (The Bears) in 1996. Joel was a wrestler, good enough to make it to the state finals.
Becoming race riders was almost preordained. Joel Campbell picks up the story. “Our grandfather, Art Campbell, owned a farm in northern Wisconsin,” began Campbell. “Some of my earliest recollections are of being on horses at his place.
“My dad, trainer Mike Campbell, was a jockey, and I had two uncles that were riders,” added Campbell. They were cousins Jeff and George Mills, who rode in Ohio and at Fairmount Park.”
Campbell was galloping horses at the racetrack while still in high school. After graduation, he attended Northern Illinois University (the Huskies) for two years. But the family tradition and lure of the racetrack was simply too strong.
“In 1998 I became a jockey,” explained Campbell. “My first win came on River Road, trained by my dad,” he stated fondly.
The road beckoned. Campbell went to Florida’s Calder Race Course in 1999 for two months, then it was on to Kentucky for stints at Turfway, Keeneland, and Churchill. Next it was Canterbury Park in Minnesota for the summer of 2000.
“Then I found my circuit, so to speak,” continued Campbell. “I went to Turf Paradise for the winter of 2000-2001 and really liked it out there. Winter in Phoenix is easy to take, especially when you are winning races.” Campbell would often reach second or third in the jockey standings at Turf Paradise. His biggest win was the Phoenix Gold Cup (Grade III, $100,000) aboard Iron Halo.
About a month before the end of the Turf Paradise meet, Campbell would depart for his summer destination of Prairie Meadows, near Des Moines, Iowa. He was always in the top five in the jockey standings at Prairie, and has three major stake wins to his credit at that meet.
“I quickly fell into the rhythm of Turf Paradise in the winter and Prairie Meadows in the summer,” Campbell explained. “The meets meshed well, schedule-wise, and I developed a good business at both meets.” Campbell’s Arizona-Iowa circuit continued for five years.
“As last year continued on, I felt more and more like I wanted to return to Chicago,” admitted Campbell. “My parents (Mike and Janice Campbell) are based here, and still live in Lake Zurich. My son, Chase, is six years old now and in first grade, and I want to spend more time with him, more than I could on quick trips home while based elsewhere.”
Returning home isn’t always easy. “When you’re gone for several years and come back, you must break in all over again,” Campbell explained. “But, I’m willing to work hard, in the mornings as well as in the afternoons. I proved myself elsewhere, and I can prove myself here, again,” he stated with confidence.
Also to his credit, Campbell doesn’t accept loose ends. Two years ago he once again began taking college courses. “I only need the equivalent of about eight courses to finish my degree in business,” he said with a smile. Finish the job, fellow Husky.