LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — No harness horse ever covered a mile faster than Cambest, earning him a place in racing royalty that continued during his second career: siring another generation of top Standardbreds in Kentucky horse country.
Cambest died this week at Walnut Hall Ltd., the Lexington farm where he spent more than 20 years in leisure and stud duties after a distinguished four-year racing career. The horse was 27 when he died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack, said Alan Leavitt, the farm's president and general manager.
The horse was still trotting up until his death. A farmhand mowing a field next to Cambest's paddock saw the horse trotting along the fence a few minutes before he was found dead, Leavitt said Friday.
"He was fine until suddenly something struck him down," Leavitt said. "It was just as quick as snapping your fingers."
The striking black horse sired offspring that have earned nearly $134.5 million in their own races, ranking Cambest seventh among pacing sires, according to the United States Trotting Association.
But it was his performance nearly 22 years ago that set Cambest apart from every other Standardbred in history.
On Aug. 16, 1993, Cambest became the fastest Standardbred in history when he paced a mile in one minute, 46.20 seconds in a time trial at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. The record stands today.
"He was blessed with more extreme speed than anybody, before or since," Leavitt said.
Bill O'Donnell, who drove Cambest to the record for trainer Fred Grant, recalled the time trial as a "last-minute thing." It was a windy day, and the horse cut through a fairly brisk wind in the final stretch, O'Donnell said.
"He was a great horse," O'Donnell said. "I knew he could go a quarter of a mile faster than any horse I ever sat behind. But if you used him up in the middle course, he didn't have it for the end. But if you could save him up until the end, he could really go."
O'Donnell, who drove Cambest in about 10 races, listed the record-setting performance among his career highlights.
The horse was a consistent top finisher during his racing career. In 94 starts at North American tracks, he won 42 races, finished second 20 times and was third place six other times, according to the trotting association.
His career earnings totaled $1.44 million.
"He was a very, very good racehorse who had a fantastic day in breaking the world's record," said the horse's owner, Daniel Kramer of Scarsdale, New York. "It was a sad day yesterday. It was a good run."
Cambest was sociable with visitors to the farm — where he'll be buried next to some of the Walnut Hall's other great horses — and he enjoyed peppermints and head rubs, Leavitt said.
"He'd open his mouth and bear his teeth," he said. "But it was just an act. If you had something in the palm of your hand ... he immediately became a pussycat."