Publish date:

Time to wake up and retire

After 27 straight wins (yawn), Cam Fella is about to hang up his harness

Cam Fella stood in his stall at Roosevelt Raceway three weeks ago, trying—but not very hard—to stay awake. While groom Peter Houck worked around Cam Fella, wrestling a bridle over the 4-year-old pacer's head, hooking up the myriad leather straps of his harness and attaching the sulky, Cam Fella yawned hugely. His head drooped and his eyelids fluttered and then closed. Here it was, 40 minutes to post time and the star of the seventh race was acting like a man watching his 80th consecutive Gilligan's Island rerun. Granted, it was late—10 p.m.—but this was ridiculous. Still, Pat Crowe, 46, Cam Fella's trainer-driver, was unconcerned. "We often have to wake him up to race," Crowe said. "This horse lies down more than he stands up."

Around racetracks Cam Fella is called The Pacing Machine, and with good reason. He has been racing once and sometimes twice a week for the last two years. On Nov. 12 he tied the record of 24 consecutive victories in one season, set in 1964 by Bret Hanover, his maternal grandsire. Now, on the evening of Nov. 19, he was supposed to go onto the Roosevelt track and break that record. The only question was whether he could stay awake long enough to get out of the paddock. After that it would be no sweat, because Cam always manages to perk up when he gets on a racetrack. Suddenly, a few minutes to post time, he lifted his head, pricked up his ears, took a quick look around at his competition and tried to bite his groom. Cam Fella was ready.

Breaking from the outside post in the field of six, he was parked at the quarter but quickly charged to the lead and kept it for the rest of the race, pacing the mile in 1:57[4/5] to win by a length and a quarter over Armbro Aussie. With that, Cam Fella broke not only Bret Hanover's record, he also broke Courageous Red's world mark (25) for the most winning miles paced in two minutes or less in one season. Ho-hum, another record. Yawn.

One week later, at Maywood Park in Chicago, Cam Fella did it again, scoring a two-length, 1:56[3/5] victory in the $50,000 Rambling Willie Invitational for his 26th straight win. That triumph ran his earnings to $1,978,867, only $59,352 short of the record for standardbreds, held by Rambling Willie. And Willie took 11 years to amass that sum. "The worst thing about Cam," says Crowe, "is that he has a tendency to lug in on turns. The best thing about him is he keeps going forward, and that's what it's all about. The harder you are on him, the better he is. I train him in 1:58 and even 1:54 sometimes. That's hard and fast."

Cam Fella knows a lot about fast, if not much about hard. In the three years that he has been racing, Cam has started 79 times and won 60. His only injury has been a bruised left knee. "Cam looks after himself," says Crowe. "And he's so relaxed. On plane rides he eats hay the whole time. He loves to travel." Which is a good thing, because Cam has covered a lot of territory. For instance, those 26 straight 1983 wins (the first on May 19) came at 11 different tracks in the U.S. and Canada, and he owns the track record for the mile at five of them. He has also smashed a raft of the great Niatross' marks: the world record for the most 1:55-or-better winning miles lifetime (16); the world record for most 1:55-or-better winning miles in a year (1983, 14); the record for the most consecutive two-minute-or-better winning miles (25); the record for the most lifetime $100,000-or-more races won (13). On Nov. 5 he became the first aged (over three) standard-bred to earn more than $1 million in a year. No wonder the horse keeps falling asleep. He should be exhausted.

Last year Cam Fella won two legs of pacing's Triple Crown for three-year-olds (the Cane and the Messenger), as a supplemental entry, but he wasn't eligible for the third leg, the Little Brown Jug, which accepts no supplemental entries. Still, he was named 1982 Horse of the Year among standardbreds. Last week, two days after his Maywood Park victory, it was announced that Cam Fella had again copped the Horse of the Year award, beating out the extraordinary 3-year-old pacer Ralph Hanover, winner of this year's Triple Crown. Cam was also named the 1983 Pacer of the Year and the Aged Pacer of the Year.

All this has been attained by a horse that was purchased by Doug Arthur of Toronto for a modest $19,000 at the 1980 Tattersalls Sales in Lexington, Ky. Though he has impressive breeding (by Triple Crown-winner Most Happy Fella out of Nan Cam, by Triple Crown-winner and three-time Horse of the Year Bret Hanover), Cam Fella got off to an unimpressive start. In 1981, as a 2-year-old, he earned a measly $17,588. Not everyone, however, was discouraged by Cam's record. Torontonian Norman Clements, a veteran horse owner who operates a chain of sporting goods stores, was in the market for a new acquisition when he heard from Crowe, a longtime associate of Clements, that Cam Fella was for sale. "I watched Cam race for three weeks," says Clements, "and then I met Doug Arthur, who said the price was $100,000. I said I was prepared to pay $75,000. The second time [after Cam Fella had won another race] I asked if he was for sale, Arthur said the price was $125,000. I said I was prepared to pay $100,000."

Meanwhile, Clements asked a friend, Norman Faulkner, if he'd be interested in buying half a share in Cam Fella. Faulkner said sure. The two Normans had once owned a horse in partnership, a 4-year-old pacer named DeSantis, who won his first three races for them. An auctioneer, Faulkner's only experience in the horse racing business had been his partnership in DeSantis. But he trusted Clements. And Clements trusted Crowe. In December 1981 the two Normans each bought half of Cam Fella, whose price by that point had crept up to $140,000. "They thought he'd be a nice racehorse and that maybe they'd get half the money back," Crowe says.

The next year Cam Fella earned $879,723. He also won a lot of fans, especially among Torontonians, 150 of whom regularly travel all over Canada and the U.S. to watch him compete. Clements and Faulkner have also given away more than 100,000 buttons that read CAM FELLA, THE PACING MACHINE. Clements even hired someone to make a movie of Cam Fella's life story. "We know that next year we'll go back to reality," says Clements, who in 20 years of racing has never owned a top-ranked horse. "A Cam Fella will never happen to us again."

This Saturday, at Greenwood Raceway in Toronto, Cam will pace his last race and be feted with a retirement party. Despite being a ridgeling (a male animal in which one or both testicles have not descended, a condition that doesn't necessarily affect his potency), he has been syndicated for almost $6 million.

Naturally, before any of this took place, Clements, who admits he didn't know what a ridgeling was before he bought Cam Fella, called a veterinarian who affirmed that the horse could be bred. In Cam Fella's case, one testicle is descended and, says Crowe, "It's so large, it's like two on another horse." However, the call that Clements made to the vet was hardly what made investors reach for their wallets. Cam Fella also was tested in the breeding shed. But—the indignity of it all!—he wasn't allowed to try out a real flesh-and-blood mare. Rather, the breeders trotted out a fake mare, called a "phantom," made out of steel and foam padding. Then they brought in a live "teaser" mare to rouse Cam's interest, and he successfully "inseminated" the ersatz mare—which is probably better than never having loved at all. The upshot of all of this was the almost $6 million syndication.

Last week Cam Fella traveled to Florida to race in the Miller High Life Golden Mile at Pompano Park. Naturally, he won, beating Armbro Aussie again, this time by a length in 1:54[1/5]—another track record—to chalk up his 27th straight win and to add $25,000 to his earnings. Next it's on to his finale at Greenwood. Clements is already nostalgic about Cam's leaving the racing circuit. "We've had two years most people only dream about," he says.

One thing is clear: It can truly be said that the two Normans bought a sleeper. Now if Cam can only stay awake during his retirement party....


Cam Fella hits the Roosevelt finish line first for his record-setting 25th consecutive win.


A constant nibbler, Cam likes to put the bite on friends and strangers; he sometimes even attempts to eat Crowe (left).