If there is doubt about who was 1961's man of the year in harness racing, there should be none at all about who was its man of November. He is handsome 32-year-old Bobby Camper, who last week skillfully drove Adios Don to an authoritative victory in the richest harness race of all time, the $145,377.96 Messenger Stakes at New York's Roosevelt Raceway.
Throughout a long season of notable victories by such well-known drivers as Stanley Dancer, Eddie Cobb, Johnny Simpson, Clint Hodgins, Del Miller and even Miller's Jeeves, Jimmy Arthur, no one enjoyed such a gratifying eight-day period as young Camper did during this month. Aside from the Messenger, he also won the $25,422.51 Belle Acton with his fine 2-year-old pacer, Ritzy Hanover.
Adios Don's Messenger win, quite naturally, was no surprise to either knowledgeable horsemen or the bettors who sent him off as second choice at 5 to 2. To them, in fact, Adios Don's victory proved that he was everything his early form promised until injury slowed him. In the Messenger he defeated the Little Brown Jug winner, Henry T. Adios, and a field of seven other good pacers, who among them had captured 17 stakes in this season.
During the second week in September, Adios Don was a hot favorite to win pacing's Triple Crown—the Cane, Jug and Messenger. Then bad luck hit him before he could take a competitive step. As the starting gate pulled away in the Cane, Adios Don slammed his head into its folding wings. He broke, wrenched a knee and finished a distressed ninth in a field of 11. Immediately, Camper withdrew his colt from the Jug and took him out of serious training.
"I thought to myself," says Camper, a quiet, studious native of Bowers Beach, Del., "that since the colt was hurt, it would be wrong to press with him. I decided to aim him for the Messenger and nothing else. My owner, Harold Large [a Long Island paper distributor], let me buy the colt for $31,000 as a yearling, and he went along with me again. Adios Don had been terrific all spring. Up until the Cane he had won nine of 12 and finished second once. I knew that the stuff was there. I went slow and easy with him and didn't work him hard at all."
Late in October, Camper sent Adios Don back to the races, and although the colt did not win in his next three starts, the old zip was returning. A week before the Messenger, Adios Don finished a strong second to Way Wave. "Then," says Camper, "I knew that if we got a good post position we could win the Messenger." Adios Don drew the 9 post, however. In No. 1, directly in front of him, was Adiosand, normally a good leaver. But Adiosand broke at the start, and Camper dropped Adios Don into fifth position on the rail. He let Henry T. Adios, Yankee Express and Tarport Jimmy fight for the lead, and finally Stanley Dancer and Henry T. Adios took it at the quarter. To get there, however, they had to go a quick 29 4/5. Camper stayed fifth till the top of the stretch, then measured his field, circled it and beat it.
Waiting till next year
Adios Don is now through for the year; Camper will prep him for the free-for-alls of next season. With Ritzy Hanover already one of the early favorites for next year's Triple Crown of pacing, Camper's face is certain to become increasingly familiar to harness fans.