By New York Newsday

Hard at work in the Belmont stables, Joseph Campbell shows that, in some measure, he celebrates his father every day.

Campbell was a son of Belmont Park, coming to the racetrack day after day to watch his father complete the same hypnotizing ritual over and over.

Charles Elmer Campbell, horse hoof in hand, would trim the outer edges, clean out the sole and get to work measuring and hammering the horseshoe to the familiar clank, clank, clank that is as much a part of Belmont Park as the sound of neighing horses.

When that got boring, Joe would cause some mild mischief in the haystacks, like pretty much everyone else who grows up around here, he said.

"It's fathers and sons for the most part," says Joe, now 63 years old and grappling with the hoof between his knees, horseshoe in hand. He and his twin brother, Charlie, "used to come to the track and aggravate my father every day. We're pretty good at aggravating."

He smiled wistfully: "I thought I was going to be a teacher. I ended up going to the racetrack."

Such is the nature of this business, in which the pull is as strong as genetics itself.

Campbell is a third-generation blacksmith. His grandfather Rhoads shod horses at Belmont, as did his father, whom everyone called Elmer. Both his uncles, on his mom's side and his dad's, adopted the trade. His half-uncle did, too.

His brother shod horses side by side with Joe up until around the time Charlie died 10 years ago. And, in 1978, when Elmer got injured, the responsibility of shoeing a horse named Affirmed fell to his former apprentice. Joe was 27 when he worked on Affirmed right before the horse became the last Triple Crown winner before American Pharoah.

“It’s definitely more of a lifestyle than a job," says Ken Kelly, an assistant trainer, third generation. "We're here 7 days a week. ... As a kid growing up, you don't really get to see your Dad or your Mom or whoever works here very often, so you're kind of, 'I want to go to work with you!' ''

Back in the day, most never did stop coming to work with Mom or Dad. Campbell and Kelly are testament to that, as is Fred Sellerberg, a 47-year blacksmith who picked up the trade from his father.

It's different now.

"Years ago, it was more family-oriented," Sellerberg says. "There's still a taste of it, but it's changed drastically. It's less generational than it used to be."

Though only 31, Kelly's been working at Belmont for 15 years. He is old guard, and as he steadies Testosterstone — a fitful bay colt getting a new shiny shoe that would make Cinderella jealous — he bemoans the shift in culture. It's a lot of new money now, he says. A lot of people don't have their own farms or breed their own horses.

"They're investment banker types, people who made their money in computers or selling Vitamin Water or whatever," he says. "That's an instant gratification crew, where they want the action now."

And though the horses are fast, the truth is, time goes slowly behind the scenes at Belmont. The stable area looks as if it comes from another era — filled with hay bales and stable cats and birds that zip in and out of stalls as if they have as much right to be there as the horse they just spooked. The old-timers are jovial, serious about the horses and the work they do and lack most any pretense.

Even this, Sellerberg says, is a shadow of what it used to be. "It used to be more friendly," he says. "Now it's more cutthroat."

There's a sense that Sellerberg and Campbell, who have nearly a century of experience between them, don't take part in any of that nonsense. Campbell says he comes to work for the fresh air, for the horses, because he loves it and because "the time is your time, and you're not going to a desk all the time."

Retirement happens ... sometimes. Campbell's father worked until he was 76. His grandfather did it until he was 82.

It's not easy work, though. "At the end of the day, you're tired," Campbell says.

Additionally, blacksmiths and trainers are constantly on call in case of injury. The work is year-round.

"There's an easier way to make a living," Sellerberg said. "We never could go to family functions because you had to shoe horses."

Sellerberg briefly mentioned the thought of retiring — he's 66 — and says he has four daughters, none of whom plans to take on the family mantle. This tradition ends when he hangs up his hammer for good.

Kelly understands. It can be a demanding life, he says, "and you want better for your sons and daughters ... I was too hardheaded to listen."

His dad, Patrick, the head trainer, listens quietly from just outside the stable. Every time a family leaves, the fabric of Belmont changes, even just slightly.

It's something Campbell will have to face. He has four sons and he's proud of his boys, but he knows that after he's done, there will be no more Campbells to call on at Belmont.

"It's a little sad," he says. "It ends with me."

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