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Harness racing

Cool Papa Bell’s Hambletonian upset lived up to his namesake, validated trainer Scott Farber’s long pursuit

Owner Scott Farber (left) and trainer Jim Campbell celebrate Cool Papa Bell's historic win in the Hambletonian.Tom Canavan/Associated Press

If Scott Farber’s late father had his way, the biggest upset in Hambletonian history would have never occurred.

The New Jersey horse owner’s dad didn’t want him to stay in the harness racing business — if Farber had listened, he wouldn’t have gone on to win Saturday’s $1 million Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters at the Meadowlands with 52-1 longshot Cool Papa Bell.

“He knew how difficult this business is and he tried to relay to that to me,” said Farber of his father,Sandy, a horse owner who died in 2004.

“I wanted to continue his work. I wanted to take our family to the next level and to continue to do the work that he had done and to build upon that and today we finished that work off. We finished it off.”

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A gifted baseball pitcher as a youngster, Farber developed a love for harness racing through his dad, biking from his hometown of Palisades Park, N.J., to the old Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford as a kid. The 52-year-old Montvale resident cites the title game of the 1992 Division III College World Series as one of his proudest moments, when he pitched a complete game for William Paterson College, helping to secure a 3-1 win.

Asked how winning a Hambletonian compared to that collegiate triumph, Farber grew emotional.

“At the end of the National Championship, when the catcher threw me the game ball after striking out the last guy — this is going to bust me up — I was able to jump up in the stands and give the ball to my father,” he said, choking up.

“So, for me, outside of my four children, I don’t mean any disrespect to this wonderful race and the history that’s behind it, but for me, that was the greatest victory for me.”

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Farber followed in his dad’s footsteps as a horse owner anyway – eventually acquiring Cool Papa Bell, who came to him with the name Seven Year Itch.

Farber changed the horse’s name immediately, honoring Baseball Hall of Famer and Negro League legend James “Cool Papa” Bell, but only with the blessing of the gelding’s trainer, Jim Campbell.

“Satchel Paige said [Bell] was so fast that he would flip a light switch and before the light was off, he’d be in bed under the covers,” said Farber. “Because I’m a baseball guy, because of that anecdote, I went with the name. Jim loved it and it stuck.”

Cool Papa Bell, left, with driver Todd McCarthy aboard, won the $1 million Hambletonian harness race at the Meadowlands Saturday.Michael Lisa/Associated Press

Cool Papa Bell lived up to his namesake Saturday as the fastest horse on the track with driver Todd McCarthy, finishing in 1:51.3. He returned $106.00 to his backers – the biggest win price in the Hambo’s 97-year history.

“We just had a dream trip on the rail,” said McCarthy, whose post 6 horse was fourth at the head of the stretch before swerving to the outside and taking down Joviality S by three quarters of a length at the wire.

I looked across there and I saw Brian [Sears] on Joviality and I said, ‘Oh. It’s going to be a tough one to keep away,’ but Cool Papa Bell was just too good today.”

By a bit of skill and a bit of luck, McCarthy was in the “right place, right time” when Campbell asked him to take the lines of Farber’s horse in the Hambletonian.

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“I said absolutely,” said the Australian, who made his Hambletonian debut Saturday. “I can’t thank him and the connections enough for trusting me enough to go with a horse like that in that kind of race. It means a lot to me as a driver, and it was a pretty special day.”

Campbell wasn’t sure that Cool Papa Bell would win until they neared the wire.

“I knew he was coming up nice along the rail,” he said. “I was pretty sure unless something bad happened he was going to get a piece of it and as it turned out, he got the biggest piece.”

Rebuff, the 3-5 favorite, finished sixth. Earlier in the day, Campbell won the Hambletonian Oaks with Fashion Schooner in 1:51.2 to become only the third trainer in history to pull off the Oaks-Hambo sweep on the same day.

Looking ahead, Farber says that the purchase of Cool Papa Bell is the first and last time he spends six figures on a horse, having acquired him for $100,000. But he’s already setting his sights on a brand-new goal, outside of standardbred racing.

“My personal goal was to win this Hambletonian,” he said. “And then after the Hambletonian, I said I was going to turn my attention at winning the Kentucky Derby and that’s what I intend to do.”

“We’ll take a good swing at it, and we’ll see if we can break some windows.”

Amanda Stellwag, a rising junior at Rutgers University, is writing as part of the Clyde Hirt Journalism Workshop.

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