To this day, Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell’s dizzying speed in the pre-World War II era remains legendary, producing enduring anecdotes. On one occasion, the former Negro League star hit a line drive that whizzed past the ear of pitcher Satchel Paige. In a flash, as soon as Paige turned around, he claimed that Bell already slid into second.
In Saturday’s $1 million Hambletonian Stakes, Bell’s namesake flashed speed of his own in pulling off the largest upset in the history of the prestigious race for 3-year-old trotters.
Tracking soft early fractions, driver Todd McCarthy stalked the pace, waiting for the right time to pounce. By the time McCarthy passed the final turn, he tipped Cool Papa Bell to the outside, setting up a wild stretch run at the Meadowlands.
Despite a determined effort from Joviality S on the inside, Cool Papa Bell raced to the wire and prevailed by three-quarters of a length. With steep betting odds of 52/1, Cool Papa Bell returned a payout of $106.00 on a $2 win bet, along with place and show payouts of $25.40 and $10.20, respectively.
“It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world,” said owner Scott Farber. “It’s my home track and we brought it home.”
Cool Papa Bell finished in 1:51.3, three-fifths of a second behind Captain Corey’s winning time from last year. Prior to Saturday’s race, Amigo Hall pulled off the biggest upset in the history of The Hambletonian, in 2003. Ridden by Michel Lachance, Amigo Hall paid $57 when he won with a time of 1:54.00.
A baseball connection
Farber, a former collegiate pitcher, grew up in nearby Palisades Park, approximately three miles from the Meadowlands Racetrack. When William Paterson University defeated California Lutheran in the 1992 NCAA Division III World Series, the pitcher capped an undefeated season with a complete-game 3-1 victory. Farber, a member of the 1992 all-tournament team, finished the season 8-0 with a 2.67 ERA.
Farber developed an interest in harness racing after watching the sport with his father Jules, a friend of Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural. Farber purchased Cool Papa Bell as a yearling in 2020 for $100,000.
McCarthy, meanwhile, captured the Hambletonian in his first-ever appearance in the prominent event. Trainer Jim Campbell did not want to overwhelm McCarthy with excessive instructions in the lead-up to the race.
“My last words to him were just that you need to feel it out and do what you feel is best,” Campbell said afterward. “He did a good job at it.”
Satchel Paige famously said that Bell was so fast he could flip the light switch and be in bed before the room got dark. pic.twitter.com/pPmtRBlCJT
— The Twins Almanac (@TwinsAlmanac) August 8, 2022
A clean sweep
Campbell won the Hambletonian for the second time in his lengthy training career. He previously triumphed in 1995 with Tagliabue, a 3-year-old named for former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Campbell also won the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks earlier on the card with Fashion Schooner, who paid $14.00, $7.80, and $6.20.
“To win these two races on the same day is just something I never dreamed of,” Campbell said.
Campbell also won the $300,000 Continentalvictory, a race for 3-year-old trotting fillies, with Misswalner Fashion.
When you realize your trainer won’t make it to the winners circle after winning the @Hambletonian_ Oaks because he had to warm up his @Hambletonian_ winner! @tetrickracing #playbigm #hambo22 #harnessracing pic.twitter.com/Rqej4Eyhcm
— Meadowlands Racing (@TheMeadowlands) August 7, 2022
The total handle for the 16-race Hambletonian card topped $7.65 million, according to the Meadowlands. The handle eclipsed the amount wagered on the Hambletonian card last year by more than $1 million.
Photo: John Brennan