May days: Cam Fella remembered

by Bob Heyden

May 14, 1979: The world welcomes a son of Most Happy Fella to the world. Doug Arthur trained the youngster early on for a couple of Norms (Faulkner and Clements). He was sold for $140,000 Canadian after his 2-year-old season ended (3-for-11 $17G).

May 6, 1983: Cam Fella was disqualified from first to second — Perfect Out was placed first — for the only time in his career at Mohawk in a $40,000 Graduate leg.

May 12, 1983: Cam Fella loses for the very last time at The Meadowlands in the opening round of the World Cup.

May 19, 1983: Cam Fella begins his epic winning streak taking the 1 ½-mile second leg of the World Cup in 2:58.2. This is the first of 28 straight that he would take all the way to Dec. 10.

May 9, 2001: The world mourns the loss of Cam Fella five days before he would have officially been 22-years-old.

So, Cam Fella lived 22 years and he passed away 22 years ago. So, here are 22 facts on “The Pacing Machine”:

1. He raced 80 times in his career with 61 wins. He was 28-for-33 at 3 and 30-for-36 at 4. In 1982, he time trialed for his season’s mark of 1:54. That was the 17th fastest time among all sophomores that year.

2. Since 1982-83, when Cam was repeat Horse of the Year (HOY), no pacer has duplicated this.

3. He made 17 of his 80 career starts at The Meadowlands, his favorite stomping grounds and the home of his career mark of 1:53.1 set on June 23, 1983 in a dead heat (with Walt Hanover an 83-1 shot driven by Tommy Haughton).

4. Most Happy Fella and Cam Fella were perfect in Triple Crown races. They were 5-for-5. Most Happy Fella swept the 1970 Triple Crown and Cam the 1982 Cane and Messenger, via the supplemental route.

5. As a stallion, Cam Fella had a $2 million winner from his first crop, Camtastic and a $3 million winner from his final crop, Eternal Camnation.

6. Cam competed at 21 different tracks in his career and was 31-for-80 in Canada.

7. He retired on Dec. 10, 1983, the year before the start of the Breeders Crown series (Oct. 5, 1984).

8. Midas Almahurst is the only horse who defeated Cam Fella who also raced against Niatross.

9. Cam Fella often traveled with rival Millers Scout in 1983, who was second to “The Pacing Machine” more times — seven — than any other horse during his career ending streak. Not only that, but Buddy Gilmour would often train them both when Pat Crowe was not yet in town.

10. Cam Fella never raced for a million, but his sons won four straight $1 million Meadowlands Pace finals from 1991-94: Precious Bunny, Carlsbad Cam, Presidential Ball and Cams Card Shark. And seven million-dollar races in just those four seasons.

11. In Cam Fella’s career he raced for a six-figure purse 17 times. 

12. The original “Clash of the Titans” at The Meadowlands between Cam Fella and Its Fritz was actually moved from Saturday (July 23, 1983) to Monday (July 25) to accommodate a scheduling conflict for trainer/driver Pat Crowe. 

13. Cam Fella was bred by Wilfred Cameron of Washington, PA.

14. Cam had 36 starts and 30 wins in 1983. Both are high water marks for any HOY.

15. Cam’s $2,041,367 lifetime made him the richest pacer of all time, surpassing Rambling Willie. He was then passed first by On The Road Again ($2,819,102) in 1985.

16. The last time he was off the board? The 1982 Meadowlands Pace elims. He finished seventh. 

17. Cam Fella started his second HOY season 2-for-8 causing some rumblings in the Cam Fella camp. 

18. Cam was named HOY in 1983 over Triple Crown winner Ralph Hanover, who also set the single season money record. Ironically, Cam Fella’s sire was a HOY runner-up as a Triple Crown winner in 1970 to Fresh Yankee.

19. During his 28-race win streak, he raced at 12 different tracks (16 for the entire year).

20. Twenty-two years before Cam, Adios Butler also repeated as back-to-back HOY in 1960-61.

21. The final 28 were not the only streaks in Cam’s career. He won his first 11 at 3 and his last eight.

22. Not a single sire in the past three plus decades has had two different Horses of the Year that is except Cam Fella. Precious Bunny (1991) and Cam’s Card Shark (1994).


• Ron Pierce on the best offspring of Cam Fella he ever

“That’s easy, Cambest. I drove him some at 3. I think I got him beat in the Tattersalls. He wanted to roll on and I let Artsplace go and he didn’t settle in very well. I think I was fourth or something. He was right there with the best I ever drove. Strong and very fast. I loved the Cam Fella line. A great race sire, a great broodmare sire, tough, my favorite breed of all time.

“I was friends with Bill Sharp back when Cam Fella was racing and he was friendly with Pat Crowe. I got to hang out with them some. It was fantastic for a young guy back then.”

• Joe Pavia, Jr.: “A great sire and a great sire of sires.”

• Rod Allen won the 1992 Meadowlands Pace with Carlsbad Cam.

“He had an unbelievable attitude and gait, but unfortunately unlike his dad, Carlsbad Cam didn’t pass it on to his offspring.”

• Jack Darling: “I never trained a Cam Fella. I started buying yearlings at the end of Cam Fella’s siring career. I had good success with his son Camluck, though.” (Darling trained Northern Luck, a son of Camluck and grandson of Cam Fella).

• Brad McNinch: “I know he was a great sire, but to win
that many races in a row, at that level and on all sized
tracks, is amazing. I think he was better as a racehorse than a sire.”

• Blair Burgess: “I could never really afford the Cam Fellas back in the day. I had Armbro Nautilus early on, very strong with excellent manners who tried hard. The Cam Fellas were thick. I was stabled beside him at Gaitway. He had two grooms on him and 24-hour security. That was common back then on the good ones. Norm Clements would spare no expense. I was a teenage groom in awe.”

• Mike Keeling (his father-in-law William Wellwood had a good run with the Cam Fella line in the 1990s).

“It’s impossible to say whether he was a better racehorse or stallion. His will to win as a racehorse is legendary. You can ignore the teletimer of today as he would compete in any generation. As a sire he’s a sire of sires and that alone makes him special. He was great as a broodmare sire as well. He was just an incredible animal.”

• Let’s finish up with Bob Boni (Northwood Bloodstock). Boni selected from the first crop of Niatross both Nihilator and Pershing Square among others. From Cam’s first crop he landed the richest again, Camtastic. Dreamaire Farms would become prominent going forward.

“As great a racehorse as he was, I never thought of him for his spectacular talent as much as his grit and determination that had him defeat many that did seem to possess more natural ability. Clearly, he was able to pass that on with his many great performers and perhaps his influence leading to no less than Bettor’s Delight. That might give him the slight edge as a stallion.