- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

John Servis stopped to make a phone call amid the joyous chaos of Smarty Jones’ victory in the Kentucky Derby. He wanted to honor the man who had helped make the moment possible but was no longer there.

Servis called Gene Camac. Both men cried, overcome by the victory and the memory of the tragedy that connects them: the slaying of Camac’s brother, Bobby.

“It was a very emotional race,” Camac said. “John said he was crying. I told him I was crying, too. He was on the way to the winner’s circle, and he took the time to call me. He is a great guy and has done a great job with this horse.”

So had Bobby Camac.

It was Bobby who urged owners Roy and Patricia Chapman to breed I’ll Get Along with the stallion Elusive Quality, a match that produced Smarty Jones.

It was Bobby who first trained the colt, who will try to become the first horse in 26 years to win the Triple Crown on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes .

It was Bobby who was killed by his stepson Dec.6, 2001, in his New Jersey home.

After Bobby’s death, the Chapmans hired Servis to take charge of Smarty Jones’ development. Servis and Bobby had gotten to know and respect each other while they trained horses at Philadelphia Park.

“Bob was a friend and fellow horseman,” Servis said. “The majority of our companionship was on the rail talking about horses and training. I felt like I could go to Bob and talk about anything.”

The two shared an unpretentious manner that made their relationship easy.

“They were very similar in their demeanor,” Camac said. “They are amazingly alike. There is nothing phony about either of them.”

Through the five-week Triple Crown run, the presence of Bobby Camac has hung over the Smarty Jones camp — not heavily but as an inspiration.

“He was very special to us,” Patricia Chapman said. “We relied on Bob for all of our horse decisions. We can’t take his name out of our phone book.”

Smarty Jones’ quest to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978 has captured the attention of the nation.

That is, in part, because it is a tale rich in drama: Smarty Jones nearly was killed by a head injury last year, but he survived and has yet to lose a race. Servis is a small-time trainer whose horse is an overwhelming favorite to become the 12th Triple Crown champion in history. Little-known jockey Stewart Elliott overcame substance-abuse problems to find a once-in-a-lifetime ride. Wheelchair-bound owner Roy Chapman suffers from emphysema and needs an oxygen tank to breathe.

But the single most tragic piece of this horse story is the death of Bobby Camac. He and his wife, Maryann, were shot by her son, Wade Russell, in their home in Oldmans Township, N.J., reportedly in a dispute over money.

Russell had been stealing checks written to Bobby and forging his signature. When Bobby discovered the theft, he told Russell never to set foot on their property again.

The next morning, before sunrise, Russell shot Bobby as he left to go to the track. He then shot his mother as she ran out of the house.

Russell, 38, was married with two children and a pregnant wife. He pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter on Jan. 20 this year and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Bobby’s daughter, according to a local newspaper, held up a picture of her parents in court and said to Russell, “By choice, you’re a thief, a liar, a forger, a manipulator and by choice, a murderer, a killer of our parents.”

Gene Camac, who was not happy with the plea bargain, simply called Russell’s act “cold-blooded.”

These days, he prefers to dwell not on that tragedy but on his brother’s legacy.

Camac, 61, is a retired steelworker who grew up with Bobby in the horse business. They worked for their uncles when they were 7 years old, walking horses and cooling them down after exercise runs in Atlantic City and Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Now he lives in Bear, Del., and has his own horses that run at Delaware Park.

Camac wasn’t able to attend the Kentucky Derby because of a previous commitment, so he watched Smarty Jones’ stirring victory from a restaurant on Fenwick Island, Del.

But he was at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore a little more than two weeks ago, watching from the owner’s box. He was invited by the Chapmans into the winner’s circle after Smarty Jones won at Pimlico by 11 lengths, a Preakness record.

“I can’t say enough about the way Mr. Chapman and John have treated us,” Camac said. “They have been great. I think we all feel the presence of Bobby with us.”

Camac received what might be considered confirmation of that while at the Preakness, sitting near Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell.

“It was the 11th race, the one before the Preakness Stakes, and I told Governor Rendell to bet this horse, Gators N Bears. It was one of the horses my brother trained.”

Gators N Bears crossed the finish line to win.

Camac will be at the Belmont on Saturday, smiling if Smarty Jones crosses the finish line first again. Perhaps his brother will be somewhere watching and smiling, too.

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