Someone once told Charlie Dreifus -- the manager of one of my favorite small-cap mutual funds -- that investing with him was like watching grass grow. How did he react to that particular remark? Well, not only did the guy take the comment in stride, but he took it as high praise -- as well he should.

"I view that as a tremendous compliment," Dreifus told me when I interviewed him for the inaugural edition of the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service. "To me, grass grows in only one direction: up."

"And it may be," he continued, that "depending on the amount of moisture and sun, that sometimes it grows fast and sometimes it grows slower, but it grows. And that's fine with me."

That's no doubt fine with Dreifus' shareholders, too.

Indeed, since the inception of his Royce Special Equity fund back in 1998 through the end of this past August, his investors have been treated to a triple-digit total return, a mark that surpasses that of index trackers such as Vanguard Total Stock Market (FUND:VTSMX), Vanguard 500 Index (FUND:VFINX), and SPDRs (AMEX:SPY) by double digits. Dreifus has also trumped his Morningstar and Lipper peer group averages, not to mention the Russell 2000, a good proxy for small-cap stock funds.

Indeed, a $10,000 investment in Special Equity on the day the fund first opened for business would have been worth more than $21,000 when the books closed in August. Meanwhile, a similar investment in the Russell 2000 would have been worth a relatively paltry $12,500.

Good news and bad
That's the good news; here's the bad: Special Equity stopped accepting money from new investors back in March 2004.

I think that's a smart, shareholder-friendly move. Indeed, while managers of funds that target big boys such as Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), and Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) can be relatively blithe about dreaded "asset bloat," skippers such as Dreifus absolutely have to remain nimble when picking and choosing stocks that meet his market-cap (small) and valuation (cheap) criteria.

Of course, you'll only benefit from his fund's closure if you already own shares of Special Equity. If not, I'm happy to report that there's more good news to, um, report, speaking of which...

Open for business
As much as I admire Charlie Dreifus and the job he's done for investors at Special Equity, there are certainly other small-cap worthies among the ranks of the fund industry's numerous contenders. I've identified five of them that meet the stringent -- and exceedingly Foolish -- criteria I use when picking winners for Champion Funds. Not surprisingly, each of 'em has beaten the broader market since I gave them the nod, too.

Relative to the S&P, in fact, all but one has outperformed by double digits, and the one fund that hasn't yet hit that mark only made its newsletter debut in the August issue. Just give it time: I'm completely confident that it has what it takes to whip up on the market -- and then some -- over the next three to five years and beyond. And that's true of all the funds I've tapped for Championship status. To wit: Taken together, our picks are beating the market by more than seven percentage points -- a significant sum in the world of mutual funds and one I encourage you to compare with your own portfolio's returns. And yep, the newsletter's model portfolios -- three collections of funds designed with Aggressive, Moderate, and Conservative investors in mind -- are beating their benchmarks, too.

So, with all that in mind, I just have to ask: Can you say the same of your portfolio? And if so, have you been able to achieve those returns in a way that allows you to get a good night's rest along the way?

Just asking!
For folks who invest in the typical mutual fund, I'm just about 100% positive that the answer is a resounding no. Roughly three out of four funds fail to beat the market over the long haul, after all. And while I can't crunch the numbers to prove it, my strong hunch is that lots of folks who invest exclusively in stocks have suffered through stomach-churning performance gyrations en route to similarly lackluster returns.

Not so investors in Champion Funds picks, which only stands to reason, right? These funds are managed by the world's best stock pickers, folks with track records of beating the market over the long haul. And our Champs also run with low price tags, boasting expense ratios that will, on average, run you less than 1% a year.

That's an important competitive advantage when it comes to investing in funds, and I'd argue that so too is a subscription to our newsletter. But you don't have to take my word for it. Click here to take a risk-free trial of the newsletter designed to put the fun back into fund investing while beating the market along the way. You and your portfolio will be glad you did!

Shannon Zimmerman is the lead analyst for Champion Funds and owns shares of Vanguard Total Stock Market. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.