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Cot Campbell bio
Welcome to Bloodhorse.com Talkin’ Horses podcast. We’re very proud to have Cot Campbell joining us to kick off this new concept.
An accomplished author, Cot pioneered the concept of racing partnerships when he started Dogwood Stables 40 years ago. You can see a whole lot more about his background and the books he’s written on our website. He is also an astute observer of the racing and breeding industries and has never been shy about voicing his opinions.
Cot, thanks for taking your time from your busy schedule.
Cot: Delighted to be with you. This ought to be interesting.
Ron: Lets go to the questions. The first one is from me actually. Dogwood has just announced that you offer smaller ownership units, less markup, insist on lower maintenance charges in anticipation of purchase prices being cut 60 to 70 cents on the dollar from previous years. Your announcement said this was due to the current economic climate and based on projections that you will be paying less for horses this year. Do you think other partnerships will follow suit?
Cot: I imagine they will. I haven’t seen any announcements about it, but it’s certainly indicated, and we have had the lovely situation in years past of selling our partnerships out very quickly. I can’t imagine that they’re going to go as quickly in the future, so we want to make it easy. We could buy horses for less, we’ll mark them up less, and in some cases, we’ll offer eight-share partnerships in addition to our standard four-share partnerships, and we are going to raise hell about keeping maintenance costs down.
Ron: In your announcement you also praised the Rood & Riddle Clinic here in Lexington for announcing that they’re going to cut some of their costs. Do you think it’s appropriate for owners and breeders to ask their trainers and others they do business with to adjust their costs considering the overall economy?
Cot: Yes, I do. I don’t think many will ask that, but probably nature will take its course. Trainers are certainly not going to go up on their rates unless they’ve lost their mind, and some of them will come down and I would think the vets are going to have to back off a little bit. I surely hope that’ll happen.
Ron: Question number two comes in from Justin. His question is: I would like to know what qualities you look for when picking a trainer. I am 14 years old and reside in New York, and I’m looking to get involved in training horses.”
Cot: I like youth, enthusiasm, and candor (in a trainer). I think those are the things. I do like young trainers that have trained with high class trainers, that go out on their own. They’re hungry, they’re anxious to make a name for themselves, and that’s a good place to start. I think a young person that wants to get into training and do anything with horses, should start by being a hot walker, hopefully go on to be a groom and move on from there as indicated.
Ron: In other words, just come right up through the ranks.
Cot: Absolutely, you’ve got to do that.
Ron: Pay your dues and you’ll get to the top.
Cot: You’ve got to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk.
Ron: Okay, I like that. Next question, from anonymous. You are one of the most outspoken and articulate owners involved in racing today. What kind of feedback do you get from others in the industry about your willingness to speak out, when so many others are willing to let things go on without saying anything?
Cot: What feedback I get is positive. I suppose that people that resent what I say keep it to themselves, maybe that indicates that what I’ve said has some validity to it. I do hear from a lot of people that applaud what I’ve said. I hope I do it diplomatically and I think most people know that my heart is in the right place. I’m a racing man and I love the game and I feel passionately about it.
Ron: I think you do go about it in the right way also. I mean, you’re a pretty classy guy and a lot of people respect you, so I guess that helps give you credibility. Along the same lines, do you feel it has cost you some investors who might shy away from your partnerships because of your strong personality?
Cot: No, I have not encountered that at all. Maybe it’s happened without my knowing it, but I think investors want to be involved with somebody that is passionate and does have strong opinions and is going to take a proactive position. So I have not observed that.
Ron: Next question comes from Barry. With the economy so bad and most tracks losing money, what would you do for the bettors to keep on bringing new people into horse racing?
Cot: The real thing is we should have a central point of government. Unlike the major league baseball and the NFL, NBA, we have a fragmented industry where everyone, every organization, every state does what they want to do and until that is corrected, the game is not going to be corrected. I don’t think at this point there’s any way to correct that other than by federal intervention and I would not welcome that, but if it were the only way, I would take that over the option, which would be for racing to continue to decline.
Ron: I must say the status quo doesn’t appear to be making a whole lot of progress as far as ramping up the industry.
Cot: No, I think that’s correct.
Ron: Next question from Jim H. What advice would you give to someone who wants to land a job with a company that puts together partnerships?
Cot: I think it would be awful tough to do right now. I can’t imagine many new outfits would be starting and I don’t think people are going to be anxious to add people. I think for somebody to fit into a partnership in such a situation, they’ve got to be versatile. One, they do need to know something about racehorses, but not only that, they need to know about the industry, they need to understand the game. I think they need to have some social skills. Versatility is the keyword, but the times are not attractive for launching a career into that.
Ron: As a follow up question, considering right now may not be the best time to be getting into it, would you suggest someone be trying to position themselves for a potential job down the road with partnerships perhaps by, let’s say, strengthening their background in horse racing and also the background economics? Is that very much of a factor here?
Cot: Yes, I suppose economics is, but I think horse racing is the thing. It’s not a complicated economic situation. I think certainly to understand the tax laws and it doesn’t take any genius to that, but I think to understand the game and to understand the sizzle – not just the stake, but the sizzle and the glamour and the zest that it puts in your life, and that’s what people are after. They’re not interested in a horse that runs around in a circle; they are interested in the pageantry of the game and the courage of the animal and, I repeat, the sizzle rather than the stake.
Ron: In other words, they’re interested in what goes along with the horse race and not just that race itself?
Cot: Yeah, the atmosphere and the life and the world of racing and the tradition and the great people that have been involved in it and the great places, that’s what makes it tick. The horse makes it tick, but we can not denigrate the atmosphere, that’s very important to a person wanting to get in.
Ron: Next question comes from Melissa H. I’m a great admirer of yours and have followed your contributions to the industry. I’m particularly impressed with your ability to select yearlings and 2 year olds at public auction that develop into stake winners. I was wondering if you could comment on what you look for in young horses regarding conformation and pedigree.
Cot: Right. I’m looking for a diamond in the rough. I’m looking for something that the Arabs or the rich Irish have turned down or passed over. I buy horses in the $75,000 to $300,000 range. So I’ve got to have some pedigree, and I will get some in that category, and I am of course interested in conformation; you’re trying to buy an athlete, but I’m looking for a diamond in the rough. I also put great faith in my first impression of a horse. Does he strike me when he comes out? Then if he does, you look him over, and you try to pick him apart, and I could live with some flaws. I love the example of the stakes race with 15 horses in the paddock and 12 or 13 are going to have flaws that you can easily detect. The perfect horse does not exist and I think you have to be able to forgive things. I forgive some of the scoping, some of the throats that have been knocked by veterinarians. I think if a horse turns out in his ankle or maybe a knee that’s a little offset, you may have to live with that and there are plenty of good horses that have had those things.
Ron: That brings us to the second part of Melissa’s question. Would those things you just mentioned – the scoping – would those be the things you think other people are too critical of?
Cot: Yes, I think it’s been proven that of the turndowns of throat scopings, many horses have gone on to never have any problem. I think there’s been some research that has documented that, and I think veterinarians find a throat that is not symmetrical and they throw the horse out and that horse, when he matures, that situation will have corrected itself in many cases and he goes on to have no problems. So I’m leery of reports that knock the scoping.
Ron: Next question comes from Tom Cawkins and also, this may also be a little bit of a broad subject and probably something you’ve even written books about. How does the cost to an owner who owns a thoroughbred outright compare with one owned in partnership?
Cot: I don’t think there’s much difference. Now we charge a $250 monthly administration fee and that takes care of postage and phone calls and bookkeeping and a lot of that stuff. So presumably if you had your own horse, you wouldn’t have that, but that’s a negligible manner and somebody’s got to take care of the details. So we do charge that. That’s about the only thing I can think of.
Ron: As far as costs, overall though I guess obviously the biggest difference between owning one in a partnership and one outright is you could possibly own more for the same money in a partnership and also you’re sharing your risk with others.
Cot: Yeah, that’s right, and if you own the horse by yourself and he’s a bad horse, then you own all of him, in a partnership, you own a fourth of it.
Ron: Next question from Ryan. A couple of years ago you wrote a very interesting commentary about alarmingly high vet bills charged by some of your trainers. My question is two parts. First, do some trainers charge a flat veterinarian fee per month, per horse, or do they give an itemized account of procedures done and expenses incurred? Second, do you think some trainers rely too much on the veterinarian and less on hard work?
Cot: The trainer that charges a flat veterinary fee per month is nonexistent, in my opinion. I’ve never encountered that and I don’t see how that could happen.
Ron: So they’re always going to be detailed?
Cot: Yeah, and what we get is a variety of treatments. Some trainers send along vet bills in their own statement, but in many cases, we get vet bills straight from the veterinarian, and they are staggering.
Do I think that trainers rely too much on the veterinarian? You better believe I do. I observed recently that I have three trainers that are probably over 60 years of age. I have four (trainer) that are probably under 45. The four have enormous vet bills and the older guys don’t. So the younger fellows have come up in a time when trainers rely on whatever a vet does is fine, let him go to it. The older guys are skeptical, they hold down vet charges and God bless them.
Ron: Maybe not so much different from the senior doctors and younger breed of doctors.
Cot: I bet so, exactly.
Ron: Next question from Darlene. First, thanks to your stable for helping in bringing the champion of Wallenda home to Old Friends, but as we all know, not all horses are champions. What does Dogwood Stable do to ensure that their horses that race for them find a good home when they are done racing?
Cot: First, we used to have a gal named Darlene who galloped Wallenda. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that’s where that came from.
Ron: Probably so. You want to say hello to her?
Cot: Yeah, I love her and I send my best to her and her family. That was good to bring that old boy (Wallenda) back from Japan, and Old Friends is a wonderful place and I applaud the work that’s being done there.
As to what we do about finding a good home, obviously if we run a horse in a claiming race and he’s claimed, then we say goodbye to him and wish him well. There’s very little I could do from that point on. But if we have a horse that is injured, has no value, or little value, what we do is to find him a good home and you can do that. There’s people that would like to have a horse as a pleasure horse or some that just want one in the front yard for decorative purposes, and we have sent many horses to many good homes and we try to do that as much as is practical.
Ron: That’s a very responsible position. Next question from someone who goes by the name of Bittel Road (probably not his or her real name). What races are you planning for Atoned, and what top 3 year olds do you have that could show up in Derby prep races this year?
Cot: Atoned is going to work on the grass next Wednesday, and if he works well and takes to it (and we have no idea whether he will or not), we will run him at a grass stake at Tampa on the 21st. If he does not show a great affinity for the grass, we will run him either in the Razorback in Oaklawn on March 7th or in the Stymie at Aqueduct on February 28th.
As far as the 3 year olds, I don’t know who they could be at this point; I can not see that we have any looming as classic candidates. We’ve had 2 year olds that have been very late getting started. We’ve got still some promising 3 year olds that are just now sitting on their first race. So I don’t see us in the Derby, alas, at this point.
Ron: Next question. I know it’s an area that not too many people like to discuss, but could you please give an average type of an example of the deal that’s made between the owners of a stallion prospect and the farm at which he will be standing?
Cot: Let’s say a farm buys a racehorse for a million dollars. They would perhaps then form a 40-share breeding syndicate, sell 40-shares at maybe $30,000 a share. So they’re going to get a million and two and they’ve made $200,000. They’re also going to get four breeding rights from the syndicate for their work in standing the horse. So that’s been kind of a standard procedure through the years.
In the case of Summer Squall, we sold three-fourths of Summer Squall years ago for $6 million. Our partnership kept 25% of it, which entitled the partnership to 10 shares or breeding rights per year to that horse for the rest of his life, a very wonderful arrangement...
Trippi was a horse we sold for about a million and a half dollars down in Florida and with it, we got seven breeding rights. So you just make whatever deal you can, but the first example would be the standard.
Ron: Next question is from Darren Brangers. You’ve already touched on this. Do you think we need a national commissioner of racing and can we put your name on the list?
Cot: Emphatically yes to the first one and emphatically no to the second one.
Ron: Speaks for itself. This is from Jack. I’m thinking about joining a partnership one day. Are all partnerships the same, how can you tell a bad partnership, and what do you look for in choosing a successful partnership?
Cot: All partnerships are not the same. Our partnerships are ones where we keep 5% of the horse that we sell four shares in each horse for the amount of 23.75% of the horse. Other people sell 20 shares in a horse; other people may put five horses together and sell 40 shares, so they all vary.
The only thing I think you could is to vet the partnership. You can find out about the guy that’s going to run it. Has he had any experience? What sort of track record has he had? You can certainly get references and talk to people that have done business with him and that is vital. You really ought to do that if you’re going to get in a partnership.
Ron: So do your homework.
Ron: Shawn asks, if I wanted to get involved with thoroughbreds, would you say my chances of at least breaking even with my investments are better in racing or breeding?
Cot: They would be better in breeding, no doubt about that, but at the same time, you wouldn’t have the thrills and the excitement and the opportunity to shoot the moon that you’d have with racing. So I think it depends on your temperament, but it’d be no doubt that breeding a horse is – while it has it’s own set of peculiarities and problems – is safer and more conservative than racing them.
Ron: Since the prices in both of these areas are on the decline, do you think I should stay on the sidelines for the time being and let the correction end, and when do you think the bottom will be?
Cot: I think unless you’re very brave, you’d better stay on the sidelines, and I have no idea when the bottom will be; I hope very soon.
Ron: Perhaps if you had a crystal ball, you might be able to predict that and take advantage of it. Next question from Jack Brown. Since the market price for thoroughbreds has decreased by about 50%, will you approach the sales with the objective to get the same stock at half price or trade up for better stock but at last year’s purchase prices?
Cot: I think I will be the guy that goes to the horse that would have brought $200,000 a year or two ago and expect to get him for $130,000. I’m not going to try to get the $300,000 horse that I can now get for $200,000. I’m going to be a little cautious and I’m going to expect to get the same stock for 60 or 70 cents on the dollar.
Ron: This is from Anna. First of all, thanks for letting my dad and I come to Aiken and watch the horses breeze; they looked fantastic. I was wondering how Jack in the Pulpit was doing; he is something else and I look forward to watching him race.
Cot: Jack in the Pulpit is a colt I paid $300,000 for at the sale, which is about as much as I ever pay to buy a Pulpit foal. Of course, and he would be the star of the class at this point. But I have also learned that sometimes the unwatched pot is the one that boils. I think Jack has a great future, but there may be some sleepy little guy in the class that is going to come out later on and jerk a knot in everybody.
Ron: Next question is from Matt, who’s trying to get some free advice here I guess. What advice would you give a beginning trainer as far as working with owners?
Cot: Be quick to give bad news when it comes, and I think that’s a vital thing. I think you’ve got to show some enthusiasm, but you’ve got to be sensible and when something bad does happen, face up to it, communicate it as quickly as possible, and the man you’re working for is always going to have faith in you. When you give him good news, he’s going to know it’s legitimate, but do not short shrift the bad news.
Ron: So be honest with them and you’ll have more credibility.
Ron: From Clint Locklear – Dogwood, as well as others, have based their operations in South Carolina for many, many years. Are you and others involved with possibly bringing pari-mutuel racing to the Palmetto state?
Cot: I am not, and I (don’t) think there is a movement of interest to try to do that. I think this would be a poor time to launch a racetrack anywhere. I don’t know that South Carolina is the ideal place for that. I don’t know that we have the gigantic market that would be needed. We do have a tradition in this state of being rather sporty and a lot of horses have trained here, but I would be pessimistic about any pari-mutuel effort at this time.
Ron: Travis Hemet asked, of all the talented Thoroughbreds you have owned throughout your amazing career, which horse is your favorite and why?
Cot: Well you’d have to list Summer Squall there, he won the Preakness. He certainly put us in the big time. But before that, in 1977-1978, I had a horse called Dominion, and he was as game as Dick Tracy; I mean he was a good horse, and he crisscrossed the nation running for us, put our colors before the public on Saturday afternoons and he was a very good horse. When he turned for home, he had blood in his eye; he had running on his mind, and years ago, the people at the farm gave me for Christmas belt with his halter buckle on the belt. And I believe if I had a fire in my house, the first thing I would do is run in there and get that belt.
Ron: I guess you hold him with such high esteem, that’s why you named the Dogwood award after Dominion.
Cot: Exactly! I should have mentioned that.
Ron: Next question is from Steve Stone and this is a really long question and it’s been cut down quite a bit for expediency purposes, but even in it’s revised state, it’s pretty long, so bear with me here. Unquestionably, over the past three decades or so, since you’ve started Dogwood Stable, you’ve become a true icon in the concept of shared partnerships in order to spot much needed new owner participants, and you’ve become very, very successful. However, the sport business is now in the throws of a catharsis, as you are cognizant of, and in addition to developing new owners and it desperately needs new and younger fans in order to sustain itself in growth of future survival. Do you think that you may now turn your attention to this challenging quest and plight and work with the myriad of racing groups and organizations in attempting to incarnate the sport and get fans to fill those empty seats?
Cot: I’m going to do what I can, but I have served racing in the various capacities in the long time that I’ve been in it, and I do not think I will specifically turn my attention to that plight, although certainly it is needed. I go back to the fact that I don’t think racing … racing is going to need to get smaller, racing needs to tighten up, it needs to be a smaller game. There’s too many horses, too many racetracks, too many days of racing. And I don’t really see anything big happening until there is a central governance of racing, like the major league baseball or basketball or golf. And I don’t see that happening unless the government gets involved and that, as I've said earlier, is a scary proposition.
Ron: That’s true. We have tiptoed around the commissioner concept. In fact, we even had someone at one time who was called the commissioner of racing, but no real teeth and really unable to bring all the parties to the table.
Cot: Right, no teeth is exactly the problem, and he could say something needed to be done, but he couldn’t make anybody do it.
Ron: In order to achieve this central office, is it worth going the government route or is that just too fraught with concern?
Cot: Well, I think some people have urged that. I think Arthur Hancock, who is a smart, conscientious, dedicated racing man, has indicated that that’s the way we ought to go to the interstate horse racing act. But I don’t know of any onslaught to go in that direction at this point.
Ron: Next question is from Mr. Horsey. Explain the role that Paul Oreffice has had in your partnerships over the past 20+ years.
Cot: Paul Oreffice is the ex-chairman of Dow Chemicals. He bought a share in a horse with us many, many years ago – about 20 years ago -- and he was a good horse. Then he bought some other shares and then he picked and chose shares as they became available. Then one day, he said “what I’m going to do is just buy a share in every horse from now on,” and I said “well that’s wonderful.” He has and he’s been the greatest partner that a human being could have. So he virtually owns 23.75% of the stable. He is the cream of partners.
Ron: I would say the relationship has been mutually beneficial.
Cot: Yes, he’s had some great excitement, some wonderful horses along with, of course, some bad ones, but he’s a great sport, he’s a great, classy guy and I’m lucky to have had him.
Ron: Next question comes from someone who identifies themselves as a concerned breeder. What is your opinion of the initial Breeders Cup decision to drop the stakes program funding, and then the subsequent reversal? Also, what can be done to make sure decisions like this are prevented in the future?
Cot: I think dropping the stake program was a blunder, and to the credit of the Breeders Cup, they quickly recognize when the furor sprang up, that it was a blunder, and they reinstated it. They were smart to do that. If you make a mistake, just own up to the mistake and try to correct it and they did. I think they now have very good communication between the 13 person board and the 39 person board, which is a rather complicated thing, but I think their system of communication and coordination is much better. I would imagine their decisions in the future will be less controversial.
Ron: In other words, if nothing else, run it up the flagpole first.
Cot: Absolutely. Get everybody onboard and they didn’t.
Ron: This is from Carlo and Blanche. Have you ever had a chance to visit Summer Squall in recent years and was he your favorite horse?
Cot: He was sure a strong candidate to be the favorite and Anne and I go out to see him every time we’re in Kentucky. We go out to Lane’s End where he’s pensioned. He’s infertile and he has not been bred for several years but they are great to keep him there and give him the wonderful treatment. We go visit him and give him peppermints.
Ron: Is that his favorite treat?
Cot: That’s his favorite treat, and I used to do that when he was racing, and he got to where he recognized me and would pick up a leg when he saw me, which meant that he wanted to get started with the peppermints. I can go there now and yell out, “Hey Pops,” and he’ll prickle his ears and look up and come galloping over to get a peppermint.
Ron: Was that your nickname for him, even when he was racing?
Cot: Pops, yeah.
Ron: It’s nice. From Paul Adams – obviously with a 2 year old in training you could see if the horse can run, but maybe damage is done to that horse that will not surface for weeks or months. Do you see these sales, in other words 2 year old sales, being around in the same format 10 years from now?
Cot: Yes, I think they’ll be around and I think they’re changing though. I think they’re better than they were three, four, or five years ago. There are restrictions now on medication, they’re only having one breeze show instead of two. The rules about whips are being implemented; it used to be you never touched a 2 year old with a whip. If you did, people wouldn’t buy him or touch him with a 10 foot pole, but then it got to where the riders were whipping and slashing when they were coming through the stretch and they’ve eliminated that now and that’s good. So I think the 2 year old sales are moving in the right direction, and I think they’ll always be there because they do offer some wonderful advantages .
Ron: There’s some organizations that have taken a leadership role in getting these things done.
Ron: From Ron Thompson – Given all your years in the sport, what do you see as a few of the more significant changes that have taken place, both positive and negative, and which of those concerns you the most?
Cot: Most of them negative – I hate the fact that newspaper coverage is on the wane. It used to be every newspaper, or practically every newspaper in the land, or at least in racing states, had the results, had the entries, the results, feature stories, sometimes even on page 1 they’d have a mention of racing, and that has gone downhill badly.
I think the frailty of the horse is distressing. I don’t think the horse is as strong as it used to be. He’s not as sound, and that is terrible. I think also too many people are anxious to sell horses and not raise horses. It’s gotten to be where the glamour in the game is in selling some yearling for 3 million dollars at the auction, and it used to be in putting together a great racing stable.
So those are all things that I am disturbed about.
Ron: From Jeff Livingston – Does it make any sense to participate anywhere in the thoroughbred business with lower end horses?
Cot: Well it certainly makes sense if that’s where you could be comfortable. You should not put any money into a racehorse that is precious money to you; you’ve got to be ready to lose it. So if you don’t have much money and you want to participate in the game, you better do it at a lower end level, and it’s all so relative. I remember when I got in, had a $5,000 claiming horse, it was a great thrill. I didn’t brood because I wasn’t winning the Derby, but as you gradually move into higher climates and higher levels of competition, you get spoiled and you want nothing but good horses. But early on, sure it’s great fun to have a cheap horse at a cheap racetrack.
Ron: I guess the winner’s circle still looks the same at the $5,000 level as it does at the $25,000 level.
Cot: It does, that is the point. It’s a great thrill – winning any kind of race is a great thrill – an indescribable thrill.
Ron: That’s all we have, Cot. Do you have anything else you want to sum up with?
Cot: No, I think they were good questions and it was fun talking about them.
Ron: I appreciate you giving up your time to subject yourself to the public like this.
Cot: Delighted to do it. I hope I don’t look like an idiot, maybe I won’t .
Ron: Well, Cot, on the other Talkin’ Horses, we always made you look good, so I think we’ll be okay here too.