11/15/2005 12:00AM

John Campo dead at 67


John Campo, the brash New York-based trainer who won the 1981 Kentucky Derby with Pleasant Colony but who left the sport because of a series of personal and professional setbacks, died at his home in New York on Monday. He was 67.

Campo had been in declining health for several years. He was best known for training Pleasant Colony, who won the Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1981 but failed to sweep the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes. Despite that loss, to Summing, Pleasant Colony was named champion 3-year-old colt of 1981.

It was during that Triple Crown that Campo's outspokenness was on full display. After Pleasant Colony's Derby victory, ABC's Jim McKay reminded Campo that he had predicted the win. The reply, on national television, was pure Campo. "I'm a good horse trainer, pal," he told McKay.

Campo also trained both 2-year-old Eclipse Award winners of 1973, the colt Protagonist and the filly Talking Picture.

Campo had several assistants who became successful trainers in their own right, notably Nick Zito, who was Campo's assistant and went on to win the Kentucky Derby twice and be voted into the Hall of Fame. Other trainers who worked for Campo include Pete Ferriola, Mitch Friedman, Bruce Levine, and John Parisella.

Campo was an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Eddie Neloy, and also worked for Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and Lucien Laurin before going out on his own in 1968. His first top horse was Jim French, who in 1971 won the Santa Anita Derby and was second in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont.

In 1986, a barn fire at Belmont Park claimed the life of 36 of the 38 horses Campo had stabled there. He never recovered professionally.

In addition, Campo's health began to deteriorate a decade ago, when he suffered a stroke and developed diabetes, and he retired from training. For his career, Campo won 1,431 races from 12,826 starters, and his runners earned purses of $25,766,390.

Campo is survived by his wife, Peggy, and sons John Jr., a trainer, and P.J., who is the racing secretary at New York Racing Association tracks.

Visitation for Campo at the Cassese Funeral Home in Ozone Park, N.Y., near Aqueduct, was scheduled for 2-4 p.m. on Wednesday and 7-9 p.m. on Thursday. A funeral mass is scheduled for Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Ozone Park on Friday at 10:15 a.m, with burial to follow at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Melville, Long Island.