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Clements Reflects On Cam Fella

Published: March 30, 2009 8:16 am ET

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When people in harness racing circles hear the name Cam Fella, fond memories come to the forefront - either through his on-track heroics or his prowess in the breeding shed.

With the Cam Fella Pacing Series recently concluded, Woodbine Entertainment's Ken Middleton recently caught up with one of The Pacing Machine's co-owners - Norm Clements - for a reflection on one of the greatest horses to ever look through a bridle.

Do you still dig out Cam Fella’s photos or videos to reminisce about the good old days?

I guess we reminisce a bit, but we haven’t watched the movie for a while now. Every now and then I’ll bump into someone who just watched the movie, and we end up taking a trip down memory lane. It was funny, last weekend when we came to Woodbine to make the presentation to the winners of the Cam Fella Series my grandkids came to the track with me. They obviously never had the chance to see Cam Fella race, but they were excited to come out to make the presentation. They ask a lot of questions about him, which is nice. He will always hold a very dear place in my heart.

What are your three fondest memories of Cam Fella?

1. The race with Its Fritz at the Meadowlands was my personal favourite. It was just a race that Joe DeFrank put on during a week when we had nothing going on. I remember it was a Monday night, and I believe there were more than 20,000 people at the track that night. Everyone in the place got a button – one said “I like Its Fritz” and one said “I like Cam Fella”. Ed Friedberg, who wanted to buy enough shares to stand the horse at his farm, said he didn’t think we should race against Its Fritz, who had records over all size tracks at the time. He thought Its Fritz wasn’t in the same league as Cam Fella and we had nothing to gain by racing him. There was a lot of pressure on us and the race itself was spectacular – and I guess that’s why it made it my greatest memory of Cam Fella. I don’t think Cam Fella really got the ultimate recognition until after he won that race. We had a hard time selling shares on Cam Fella before that race, but Harrisburg came up shortly after the race and we had no problems selling them at that point. In fact, we sold all the shares at that point. Ron Waples was first to approach and buy a share and Armstrong Bros., who originally said no, bought five.

2. The camaraderie of the group that traveled to watch Cam Fella race every week has to rank right up near the top. The following just got bigger and bigger from one week to the next. We had so many phone calls from different people expressing an interest in coming to watch him race. We rented buses and even filled a whole airplane at one point because so many people wanted to go. We rented whole hotels, too, and had a lot of fun. The whole thrill of the two years was just amazing; we had genuine fun. In the whole time I’ve watched races I’ve never seen a winners circle with two and three hundred people in it until Cam Fella came around. We shared that horse with everybody; he was the poor man’s horse. I’ll bet you over the years I have given away more than 3,000 of his movies. There never was a front page horse like Cam Fella. I have stories that Dave Perkins wrote still in my office.

3. It was exciting when his first baby was born. When we look back in history there’s no doubt he was one of the best race horses of all time, but there’s no arguing he was the greatest stallion of all time. Today, if you look in the program on any given night you’ll find three to four decedents of Cam Fella in each race; they’re everywhere. His career as a sire was very exciting. Just take this year’s Cam Fella Series for example. When we presented the trophy last week, the winner of the series was a son of Cams Card Shark – who is a son of Cam Fella.

What was the biggest disappointment of his career?

There were really no major disappointments along the way, just some minor ones. We were at Freehold one afternoon, and Cam Fella had been sick and wasn’t right. We got beat that day by Jefs Eternity, who was owned by Ed Friedberg. He was vicious after that race. He said “I paid all this money to get in on Cam Fella and he got beat by a mare!” I told him I’d give him his money back if he wanted, but eventually he came around and cooler heads prevailed.

What are some of your favourite souvenirs you picked up along the way?

In my lounge I have this monstrosity of a trophy case that has all of Cam Fella’s trophies and awards. I always say to people when they stop around ‘This whole wall is made up of items won by one horse, and over here in this little corner are the all of the awards earned by my other horses!” He was a horse that really touched the lives of a lot of people.

Is there a story about Cam Fella that has never been told?

There was one thing that was a bit peculiar, and it surfaced when we did the tour with him after his career was over. A couple of times, once in Clinton and once in British Columbia, a person with a serious physical problem came to get their picture taken with Cam Fella, and it was clear to see that Cam Fella sensed something was different. People would say “Look, the horse knows that person is different from everyone else.” I could see that and I had a number of people come up to me and say the same thing. He was as gentle as could be. Things were different around his stall, though. That was his place and he let you know it. You couldn’t go in his stall, he wouldn’t let you. He was all business at the track, but he was never that way in his stall.

Who was the greatest son or daughter of Cam Fella that you owned?

Well, we bred Camluck who was a great horse and turned out to be a terrific stallion. Ed Friedberg and I owned his dam [Lucky Lady], and she’s still on my farm. She’s 29 years old now, and she’s still very healthy. As far as a racehorse, I owned Cams Exotic and she made over $600,000. So she’d be the best one [Cam Fella offspring] that I’ve owned and Camluck was by far the best one I bred. They would be the top two.

Which of Cam Fella’s offspring reminded you of him the most?

One horse that really reminded me of Cam Fella was Goalie Jeff the night he won the North America Cup at Greenwood. He went a heck of a mile to win that night; his toughness and grittiness reminded me of Cam Fella. The ones that really remind me of Cam Fella, though, are those $20,000 claimers that race all the time. The might look a little bit off in the post parade and warming up, but as soon as you swing them in behind the gate they give you everything they’ve got.

If you could recruit ten of harness racing’s greatest pacers of all-time to race against one another, who would that group consist of from the rail out?

That’s a tough one, but I’ll give it my best. One thing is for sure, you’d have no problem getting 50,000 people to come out and see that race. Alright, here goes:

1. Cam Fella (1:53.1 - $2,041,367)
2. Niatross (TT1:49.1 - $2,019,213)
3. Albatross (1:54.3 - $1,201,470)
4. Nihilator (1:49.3 - $3,225,653)
5. Somebeachsomewhere (1:46.4 - $3,328,755)
6. Bye Bye Byrd (TT1:56.1 - $554,272)
7. Dan Patch (1:55.1 - $1,000,00+)
8. Bret Hanover (TT1:53.3 - $922,616)
9. Adios Butler (TT1:54.3 - $509,875)
10. Cardigan Bay (1:57.2 - $1,000,837)

(with files from WEG)


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