How a 52-1 longshot gave Jim Campbell and Scott Farber the day of their lives.
by Dave Briggs
This is a story of longevity and perseverance and the magic that sometimes can happen when one ignores the odds against.
If one believed the tote board, Cool Papa Bell had no business winning Saturday’s (Aug. 6) $1 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands. In fact, his stirring triumph at 52-1 odds stands as the biggest statistical upset in the grand old race’s 97-year history.
For trainer Jim Campbell, it was the capper of the day of days, a single, improbable afternoon when the fates smiled upon him like never before.
He not only won the Hambletonian, he also won the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks with Fashion Schooner — from the 10-hole, no less — after also winning the $33,500 Continental victory with Misswalner Fashion, also from the 10-hole.
He is just the third trainer to win the Hambletonian and the Hambletonian Oaks on the same day, joining Jan Johnson (1988) and Jimmy Takter (2014 and 2015).
“I’ve never had a day like today. To win the Hambletonian and the Oaks in the same day, you can’t top that in this business,” Campbell said. “It’s just unbelievable and something that I never thought I could do. I just feel very blessed that it happened to me today.
“I’ve gone out of here lots of days when things didn’t go well and got in my truck and was mad because things didn’t go well, but a day like today erases any bad day that I’ve ever had in horse racing.”
That Campbell won the two big ones for owners he’s had for 35 years and 28 years, respectively, made the day even sweeter.
Campbell has trained for Cool Papa Bell’s owners, the Farber family, since 1987 and Fashion Schooner’s owner Jules Siegel since 1994.
HOW THE RACE WAS WON
In a race that shaped up as a potential clash between last year’s Breeders Crown 2-year-old champions Rebuff and Joviality S, the last word went to 52-1 outsider Cool Papa Bell, who emerged from mid-division to nab Joviality S in the final steps.
After Joviality S protected the lead into a :28 first quarter and subsequently yielded to 3-5 favorite Rebuff, who brushed from third with nine-sixteenths to go, Todd McCarthy methodically worked closer with Cool Papa Bell through the final turn. Meanwhile, Rebuff faced steady pressure from Temporal Hanover nearing the top of the stretch before facing an inside challenge from Joviality S — setting up for the much-awaited battle of the sexes. Joviality S succeeded in collaring Rebuff with a sixteenth to go, but Cool Papa Bell cascaded down the center of the track to complete the upset in 1:51.3. Joviality S was a valiant second; Temporal Hanover finished third.
Cool Papa Bell is now a seven-time winner with $760,999 in career earnings.
THIS ONE IS NEXT LEVEL STUFF
So, how did we end up here, with a 52-1 shot posing beside harness racing’s holy grail?
In some ways, it goes back to another night Jim Campbell blew up the tote board.
On Halloween night at Harrah’s Hoosier park in 2020, Campbell won two Breeders Crowns — the first with Next Level Stuff for Scott Farber’s Runthetable Stables and the second the sophomore pacing colts’ final with Sandbetweenmytoes at a whopping 203-1, by far a Breeders Crown record.
Put aside the Sandbetweenmytoes jaw-dropping upset, by a neck, of eventual Horse of the Year Tall Dark Stranger for a second. The more important horse here is Next Level Stuff, a Farber family homebred that helped return the clan to stakes prominence.
It came at a particularly opportune time. The victory had the karma to help Farber recoup some of his investment in the first six-figure yearling he’s ever bought.
A little less than a month before Next Level Stuff won the Breeders Crown for an emotional Farber, he went to $100,000 on a Chapter Seven—Blk Thai Optional colt at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale bred by Belmar Racing and Breeding LLC of Belmar, NJ.
That colt, originally named Seven Year Itch, was renamed Cool Papa Bell. (Had he been named 27 Year Itch it would have been particularly poignant considering 27 years ago Campbell won his first Hambletonian with Tagliabue).
Farber said $100,000 was, without a doubt, his final bid on that colt when the hammer fell in his favor.
“You want to know what else? I spoke to the breeder earlier this week and guess what the reserve was on him? $100,000. So, once it went to $100,000 that was it.
On Saturday, Farber fell to his knees, his head in his hands and wept when McCarthy steered Cool Papa Bell to victory.
“I was thinking about my father,” he said of the late Sandy Farber who started the family in horse ownership. “I was thinking about how many years that I’ve been coming to the track… how many years I’ve been with the Campbells. I’ll say it again, ‘They are the greatest name in harness racing.’
“I was just completely overwhelmed and I’m still buzzing from it. My head is still buzzing.”
Scott’s brother, Brian, was also overcome with emotion when Cool Papa Bell was in the stretch of the Hambletonian.
“My brother and I were screaming, ‘Get him on the inside’ and then he just pulled away a bit. You never know, a bad step or something happens, but as soon as we hit the wire… I went in the corner and cried. My brother was getting tackled and I was just crying,” Brian said.
“I wish (Jim’s father) Jack Campbell was here,” Brian said. “The Campbells and us have been together for a long time and it’s come to fruition. We won the Breeders Crown, but this ice it.”
For Scott, Cool Papa Bell’s triumph was one for the smaller guys.
“There’s a lot of big breeders and big owners that own a lot of horses and the odds are stacked against the little guy, but we got it done today,” he said.
“I’m a lay-in-the-weeds guy, always have been. I’ve always been a guy that likes to be behind the scenes, quiet and not talked about. You just let your actions speak for yourself, very similar to how Barry Sanders and Jerry Rice acted when they got to the end zone. There was no team celebration, he just went over and handed the ball back – professional.”
Campbell said he’s thrilled the Farbers’ long loyalty was rewarded.
“Scott has been a very loyal owner to me. We had some years where I produced nothing for him and he never lost faith in me as his trainer. He remembers me training horses for his dad and he just kept saying, ‘You’re my man and I’m going to keep sticking with you,’” Campbell said.
“It’s easy to say when you’re standing around here, winning a race like the Hambletonian and saying, ‘Oh, he’s a good guy.’ He is a good guy because he stood by me when I could do nothing right for him and he never lost faith in me.”
As for another Campbell, Hambletonian Society president John Campbell, he was beaming handing the Hambletonian trophy to his younger brother and Farber.
“I’m so proud of him,” John said of Jim. “I know what he puts into it each and every year and to have a day like this, as he said, it’s a day that you don’t even dream about.
“He’s always been so enthusiastic and he’s such a hard worker. He always was, even as a kid he was never afraid of work and it certainly paid off for him today. It’s just wonderful to see.”
As for Cool Papa Bell shocking the world, John just smiled.
“That’s why we race them,” John said. “(Jim’s) been here before when he thought he had good chances and it didn’t work out. But it is remarkable and I’m just so proud of him.”
As for the odds board, Jim said he pays it no mind.
“I see it, but I never pay attention to it,” he said. “By the same token, if I’ve got one that’s 1-5 I always think that there are nine other horses that want to beat my horse. So me, personally, I never feel relaxed or confident going into a race, no matter who I have to a certain point, just because I know that in horse racing anything can happen and this is a perfect example that anything can happen in a horse race.
It was yet another example of why they don’t hand out trophies based on pre-race prognostication.
And thank goodness for that.
with files from Mike Farrell / Meadowlands media relations