Big Brown and Dick Dutrow Evoke Memories of Pleasant Colony and John Campo

Marty HeymanContributor IMay 18, 2008

A couple of good writers have mentioned Pleasant Colony and his trainer, John P. Campo when they cover Dick Dutrow and Big Brown. I think Big Brown is nicer looking than Pleasant Colony and, as outspoken and amusing as he is, Dutrow is no Campo! Both have shown they're excellent horsemen (if loud and boasting) but Campo was The Fat Man, a New York drop-out who moved onto the track at 16 and became famous in spite of himself!

Campo got lucky when they moved Pleasant Colony to his barn. Thomas Mellon (Buckland Farms) owned the horse and something happened that made him dump his regular trainer. Pleasant Colony was no flashy looker but early results showed he had promise. There is more story there than the Internet seems to want to remember.

The Kentucky Derby Website writeup on the 1981 Derby mentions "a slow healing chemical burn on his left hindquarters." I can't find anything on the net on that little story line. Chalk this up as maybe the work of a prankster (Bob Smith) and maybe the truth. Bob's passed and so has The Fat Man.

Back in really early 1981 some time, we were riding at Bob's barn north of Poughkeepsie, New York. It's the heart of the Rombout Hunt's gorgeous country and Bob ran a stable that did classes, led cross-country rides, and boarded horses for various hunters and, as we found out, trainers.

One day we were up at the barn for ride. Melissa, my daughter, would have been about nine and was a willing if not terribly enthusiastic rider. We'd been out and were in the late stages of putting horses in stalls.

Something happened and Bob handed Melissa the lead-rope of a nice looking horse. The horse wasn't classically beautiful but was clearly a really nice thoroughbred. We figured it for one of the fancy hunters Bob trained for the hunt crowd (we were social members). None of us thought much of it other than we thought it was odd that with me standing right there, he asked the kid to hold the horse.

Some time later, we were up at the barn and riding out and Bob turned to Melissa and asked, "You remember that horse you held for me in the barn?"

She had to think about it a second and then said, "Yes."

"Well, that horse just won the Kentucky Derby," Bob told her.

Bob's story was that Campo had to make the horse disappear after the "chemical burn" which Bob claimed was an attempt to get the horse off the track for the Triple Crown races. He never hinted who might have done it, only that Campo needed the horse to get scarce and that Campo knew that if Bob rode him cross-country for a few weeks it would both muscle him up and break the monotony of training on the track.

We'd suspected Bob had some race horses vacation on the property so it made sense. Campo also had issues with the brass about connections to "the mob" that never went anywhere and were part of his persona. It all had that crazy Fat Man ring to it.

And Bob had that crazy dry Bob sense of humor. You often wondered if you were seeing things straight or through the wool pulled over your eyes.

Maybe I'm just gullible. Maybe I just want to believe a great tall tale. Maybe, just maybe, it's all true.

Photo from flickr by svadilfari (see this page).