First Class

Real Cool Sam is the real deal

story by Rich Fisher

Soap opera producers would never get rich off Real Cool Sam, who is much too boring to cast in their crisis-per-minute shows. Horses are bred for a different purpose, of course, and Real Cool Sam’s connections found ample entertainment in the money their placid, yet speedy, horse earned last summer.

As one of harness racing’s latest Dan Patch Award winners, the gelded 2-year-old trotter captured his first nine starts, including a world-record dead-heat victory, prior to finishing fourth in the Breeders Crown. Real Cool Sam banked $497,774, set another world record and equaled two others during his freshman campaign.

And he did so with nary an issue.

“Simply put, there’s no drama to him,” said Jim Campbell, his trainer. “We have no complaints with him on either end, whether it’s in the barn, training him, jogging him, racing him. He’s done everything for us.”

“He was,” quipped driver David Miller, “just a real cool horse.”

And he will be a really watched horse as a 3-year-old, as Real Cool Sam’s trainer and driver are already thinking about the Hambletonian.

“He’ll be staked up to all the major stakes,” Campbell said. “Obviously, the first Saturday in August will be our main focus.”

Which is fine by Miller.

“I’m still trying to get that one special win,” he said. “I’m dreaming about that already.”

Both men know, however, that all sorts of things can happen between now and August. They are speaking in terms of potential, but as Campbell knows, one great season does not ensure another.

“When you’re dealing with horses, it’s like dealing with athletes,” he said. “In any sport, when a team goes out and signs a player to a huge contract, everybody is expecting the world from him and it doesn’t always happen.

“In this case, you’re dealing with an athlete. Everything has to go right for them, and they have to prove themselves all over again because it’s a whole new game when they come back at 3. But the way everything looks with him, we’re very optimistic for his 3-year-old year because he’s shown us nothing but positives.”

Enough positives to rank as one of the best 2-year-olds Campbell has ever trained, along with Broadway Hall and Possess The Will. The horse, a homebred for Fashion Farms, is by Muscle Hill and out of world champion Cooler Schooner, who was driven by Campbell’s brother, John.

Owner Jules Siegel felt good vibes when it came to Real Cool Sam right from the start and named him after Sam McKee, the late, legendary Meadowlands announcer who was a friend and sort of good luck charm for Siegel before McKee’s death in 2017.

When Campbell began working with Real Cool Sam, the talent was quickly apparent. But there was work to do before he could live up to the “real cool” moniker.

“He was a little too rambunctious; that was the reason we had to geld him,” Campbell said. “But it really did settle him down and there’s nothing not to like about him in the barn. You walk up to his stall and if he doesn’t already have his head out, he’ll come right out and greet you. He’s just a real pleasure to be around. He’s a horse that loves people. He loves other horses.”

It was hard for Campbell not to feel optimistic about Real Cool Sam, who was among his top horses in training. How that transcended to the track, however, remained to be seen.

“Some horses don’t transition from being top trainers into top racehorses,” Campbell said. “They can fool you once in a while. Part of it is they lack a good attitude for racing and wanting to go out there and do it. With some, their potential ends at a certain point and they can’t do anymore. You can train a trotter in 2:01 and 2:02 before you baby race them and they can feel great, but they might only be a [1]:57 trotter when it’s all said and done and that’s the thing you don’t know at the time.

“You’re going into it and you’re hoping he’s what you think he is. But you never know until it’s all done. In the end, he surpassed all my expectations. I couldn’t ask for anything more than what he gave us. He showed he’s got a lot of speed. He’s good gaited and has a really good attitude about racing. There are nothing but positives.”

Miller was smitten with the horse early on.

“Jim liked the colt right away,” he said. “He said he had trained down very well and was doing everything right.

“You never really know until you get to racing him, but right off the bat Sam showed his class and his gait. He showed a lot of ability right off.”

Real Cool Sam opened the season by winning at Harrah’s Philadelphia in a conditioned race on June 27, followed with a win at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in a Pennsylvania All Stars event on July 8.

A dream season was underway, but Campbell wasn’t allowing his emotions to interfere.

“In today’s racing, as the year went on there were other trotters that were getting better, as well,” he said. “To give you an idea of how tough the competition is, the first week of Lexington—which we skipped intentionally—there were four 2-year-old trotting colts that won in 1:52.4 or faster. That tells you how tough your competition is.

“I always go into a race thinking there’s good competition and there might be somebody who’s stepping up, especially with these 2-year-olds. You don’t know all their history. Somebody might have one that just needed a little extra time to come along and you just don’t know that.”

Real Cool Sam’s first brush with history came when he won the $324,550 Peter Haughton Memorial in 1:53.1, which equaled the world record for freshman gelding trotters on a mile track.

But perhaps his finest moment came in the $252,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final at Harrah’s Philadelphia on Sept. 8. Amigo Volo set a blistering pace while Real Cool Sam sat back and smoked the field in 1:53.4. The time took a full second off the divisional world record for geldings on a five-eighths-mile track, which was previously held by Real Cool Sam and Amigo Volo. The time also broke the stakes record of 1:54.2 set by Stormin Normand in 2011.

“Amigo Volo had got away from us in the last turn,” Miller said. “I was second over and my cover wasn’t really going anywhere. By the last turn, I had to go three-wide and Amigo had a pretty good jump on us. Sam tracked him down at the wire.”

Campbell called it one of Real Cool Sam’s most remarkable races. It showed just how great the horse could be when facing adversity.

“He didn’t get a very good trip, and to come from where he came from at that track and to close like he did, that’s something special,” Campbell said. “Amigo Volo had open lengths on him going into the last turn. Our cover didn’t get us into the race, so we were pretty much three-wide from three-quarters on. I had more people come up to me and tell me that horses just don’t win from that position at that track the way he did. That trip impressed me as much as any of his races did.”

Nearly a month later, Real Cool Sam remained undefeated fighting off one of those unknown quantities that Campbell always fears. In one of three $92,100 divisions of the International Stallion Stakes at Red Mile, the gelding went off as the 1-2 favorite and was pushed to the limit by 32-1 Big Oil.

Racing fourth up the backstretch, Miller guided his horse to a dead heat finish of 1:52.1, which broke the world record of 1:52.3 set a week earlier by Amigo Volo over the same oval.

The perfect season was derailed at the Breeders Crown.

“He didn’t have the greatest trip,” Campbell said. “He scoped [dirty] after the race. He had some mucus and he didn’t have his usual pop to him. I think it was just more of a combination of him getting a little bit sick and his schedule. He’d gone strong right from the beginning of the year. It’s tough to keep them at that level racing with that type of competition.

“We thought it would have been nice to win the Breeders Crown. It was just unfortunate he wasn’t at the top of his game. It wasn’t his fault, that’s for sure.”

In no way did that race detract from the season.

“No,” Campbell said. “If somebody told you you’re going to have a horse that’s going to win every race except for one, you’re not going to say, ‘No, I don’t want that horse.’”

Campbell is looking forward to this year, and feels Real Cool Sam just needs to make the same progress as any other horse going into his 3-year-old season.

“They’re all going to have to be able to go faster and carry their speed further,” he said. “There’s going to be some 2-year-olds that will step up their game and there might be something that nobody ever saw race that might be stepping up. When you come back at 3, you have to step your game up with both speed and carrying it further.”

Other than that, Campbell feels there is no facet of Real Cool Sam’s game that needs any major improvement.

“He did everything we asked of him,” he said. “He could race in a hole, he could race first-over, he could race on the front end. It didn’t matter to him. There wasn’t anything that he did that we didn’t like. Everything was all positive.”

What made it even more positive is that the horse did his namesake proud.

“Every time he would race, you think of what Sam (McKee) would be thinking,” Campbell said. “To have a horse this good named after him . . . he’d be very proud of the horse. I wish it was under different circumstances, but just the way this horse turned out. It was very fitting for a horse this good to be named after somebody like Sam McKee, because he was a first-class guy.”

And he has a first-class horse named after him.

“He stayed very level-headed all year,” Miller said. “He showed up and did his job in a real professional way.”

In other words, he was Real Cool Sam.

Rich Fisher is a freelance writer living in New Jersey. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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