Cot Campbell: A True Pioneer

On August 11 at the Reading Room in Saratoga, Cot Campbell's family and friends will celebrate the life of the man who changed the face of Thoroughbred racing.

I first met Cot Campbell at the 1990 Preakness Stakes when I was assigned to write the winning owner's story for the Thoroughbred Times. I pulled into the press parking lot several days before the race and the first person I saw standing outside the stakes barn was Cot Campbell, who had Kentucky Derby runner-up Summer Squall running in the second leg of the Triple Crown for his Dogwood Stable.

I introduced myself and we began talking about Summer Squall. Within five minutes it was as if I had known Cot my whole life, especially when he kept calling me "Steve" through the entire conversation. The next time I saw him I was impressed that he remembered my name. I naturally gravitated toward Cot and even watched the Preakness close to his box in case he won.

As Summer Squall slipped inside Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled and began to draw clear I got as close to Cot as I could to get a sound byte. I got more than I could have hoped for.

"Go on with him!...Go on with him!...Go on with him! Damn it, I win!"

Cot proceeded to unleash a flurry of left hooks into an invisible opponent. As Summer Squall returned to the winner's circle, the ovation was deafening. For 28 members of the Dogwood Stable syndicate, from all walks of life, they were able to share in the exultation of winning a Triple Crown race.

Cot hugged one of the shareholders and said, "Wasn't that great? Oh boy, I'm so glad for all of us. If this doesn't make everyone happy, nothing will. I'll never forget this moment. It'll take about three months for it to sink in."

It would take another 23 years for Dogwwod Stable's next classic victory, compliments of Palace Malice, who captured the 2013 Belmont Stakes. But, oh, all those unforgettable victories and wonderful memories in between. By then, racing syndicates were prevalent throughout the sport, with new partnerships cropping up all over. But it was Cot Campbell who started it all.

But even with so many syndicates, it was still Dogwood Stable that brought one back to racing the way it was and the way it was meant to be - a joyous celebration of the sport. But now, people, rich or not, were able to experience the joy of owning a top-class racehorse. The days of the Vanderbilts, Whitneys, Wideners, and Phippses dominating the Sport of Kings were over in part because of the vision and foresight of Cot Campbell. Now, most anyone could envision themselves Alfred Vanderbilt or C.V. Whitney in the winner's circle following a big stakes.

How did Campbell become racing's pied piper? What made Dogwood Stable and the concept of syndicates so alluring? Perhaps it was his smooth southern drawl or his ability to make people feel as if they were his best friend or perhaps it was the warmth and ebullience of his wife, Anne, and the constant smile on her face that makes people feel part of the family. It could even be the entire Campbell family, every member as engaging at Cot and Anne, whose Saratoga Diary every year in the Dogwood newsletter was a must read, each one capturing the essence of Saratoga.

Although Dogwood Stable never won the Kentucky Derby, finishing second, third, and fourth (with Summer Squall, Impeachment, and Limehouse, respectively), and winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes certainly is enough of a thrill for any owner.

Cot knew how to talk to people from his days as a sportswriter for the Tampa Times and the Winter Haven Daily News, both in Florida. He later covered the Kentucky Derby for a publishing outfit that owned newspapers in Augusta, Savannah, and Athens, Georgia. As Cot said, "I was probably the only human being in Georgia who knew anything about racing."

Cot also knew about horses through his father and began grooming them and then showing them. When he decided to buy a Thoroughbred with a couple of friends, the concept of Dogwood Stable was born. The first horse he purchased was a yearling filly at Timonium, for whom he dished out a whopping $1,000. Named Social Asset, she broke her maiden at River Downs at odds of 60-1. When he won the Alcibiades Stakes with the $5,000 purchase Mrs. Cornwallis he decided to buy racehorses for a living and sold his advertising business.

Then came graded stakes winners Dominion, McCann, Pipedreamer, and Proctor for Dogwood Stable and the syndicate was off and running. Before he knew it he had 18 horses and 45 shareholders in Dogwood Stable. There was no turning back. When they captured back-to-back runnings of the grade 1 Rothman's International with Nassipour, an $80,000 private purchase, and Southjet, who also won the grade 1 Secretariat Stakes, Dogwood Stable was firmly on the map. They even won an Eclipse Award when their British import Inlander romped in the Colonial Cup Steeplechase.

The following year, 1988, started off with great promise as Viking Penguin publishing house named Dogwood Stable as the subject of a coffee table book chronicling a year in the life of a racing stable. One five-horse syndicate package that was put together that year included a Storm Bird - Weekend Surprise yearling who had been purchased by Cot at the Keeneland July selected yearling sale for $300,000, pretty much the top of his price range. It turned out to be the ultimate prize in the Cracker Jack box.

His name was Summer Squall, and he turned Dogwood into a national force, and opened the eyes of other horsemen to the concept of syndicates, not only as a vehicle for success but on a classic scale. 

Although the Summer Squall syndicate included influential names like William Farish, Mrs. John Ben Ali Haggin, Pete Haas, a member of the New York Stock Exchang;, literary agent Helen Brann; Paul Orrefice, chairman of Dow Chemical; and Dick Dudley, president of Dudley Broadcasting, it also included Margaret Jackes, who just heard about it from a friend. She sent for the literature and decided to join. She knew nothing about Cot Campbell or Dogwood Stable, but heard he was "really good people."

When you get down to it, with all his success with Dogwood, with all the brilliant and witty books he wrote, and with his high standing in the industry, Cot Campbell first and foremost will be remembered as really good people.


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