A's Game - By Esther Marr

(Originally published in the May 5, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

Alex G. Campbell Jr. rarely misses a day at the races. During Keeneland’s spring and fall meets the veteran owner/breeder can almost always be found relishing the ambiance of the Lexington track from his box on the fourth floor of the clubhouse.

From this vantage point Campbell has witnessed some of the most exciting moments of a racing career that spans more than five decades.

Karlovy Vary provided Campbell his most recent adrenaline rush April 7 when she scored a front-running victory in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (gr. I) and became a live contender for the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).

“I got such a thrill out of winning the Ashland at home, at Keeneland,” said Campbell. “I’ve been to most racetracks in this country and several around the world, and I believe Keeneland is the best.”

Campbell, still full of energy and plans for the future at age 84, named Karlovy Vary after a small city in the Czech Republic where two of his close friends reside.

“They say it’s the most beautiful town in the Czech Republic,” said Campbell. “If I ever have the opportunity or the money, I think I’ll go over there and visit.”

Karlovy Vary, a daughter of Dynaformer who has won three of six starts and enters the Oaks with earnings of $362,294, isn’t the first horse Campbell named for sentimental reasons.

“I use names I think are appealing to people or fun,” said Campbell, who named another Dynaformer filly, 2010 Ashland runner-up It’s Tea Time, with the help of a waiter at a historic Virginia hotel.

“They would serve tea every day, but I really preferred something with alcohol,” said Campbell, who told the waiter to fill his tea cup with scotch on the rocks. “So every afternoon, the waiter would come to me with this cup of supposed tea and say, ‘Mr. Campbell, it’s tea time!’ ”

One of Campbell’s all-time favorite horses, Mr Purple, was named after his longtime friend David Reynolds, whose silks were purple and who often wore purple suit jackets to the track.

The purple moniker seemed to bring good luck, as Mr Purple would go on to win or place in 13 stakes, 11 of which were graded. The son of Deputy Minister provided Campbell with one of his proudest moments when he captured the 1996 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).

Over the years Campbell has raced several other stakes winners alone or in partnership, including grade I victors Goodbye Halo, Rootentootenwooten, and homebred Queens Court Queen.

Campbell, who as a young boy admired the success of such industry greats as Col. E.R. Bradley and Warren Wright Sr., bought his first horse with a couple of partners in his early 20s.

“The horse business is rewarding, and there’s always an opportunity to make money,” said Campbell, who is retired from the tobacco industry. He takes pride in his role as a Central Kentucky civic leader through the non-profit Triangle Foundation, which he founded to fund projects benefiting the public in Lexington; and as a board member of the historic Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and Transylvania College.

At one time Campbell owned more than 100 horses, including around 30 broodmares. He has culled his breeding and racing stock to around a fifth of what it used to be. 

“It’s for the best because now I can really pay attention to each one,” said Campbell, who kept only his highest-quality horses. “I wish I’d done it years ago.”

Campbell is quick to credit the solid team that manages his racing and breeding interests. The team includes Neil Howard, manager of Gainesway, where Campbell boards his mares; trainer Rusty Arnold; and breeding advisers Anja Stieber and Mike Akers. His young horses are broken by Todd Quast at GoldMark Training Center near Ocala, Fla., and Campbell also credits blacksmiths Curtis Burns and Chad Boston for taking good care of his runners. Burns invented the Burns Polyflex Shoe, which all of Campbell’s horses wear.

“We work as a team,” said Campbell.

Arnold, who has trained horses for Campbell since the 1980s, said he enjoys working for the owner because of the trust they share.

“(Campbell) likes to be informed on how his horses are doing, and he has an input on where he would like to go, what his goals and ambitions are, and what he thinks about a horse,” said Arnold. “But as far as the day-to-day training, he leaves those decisions up to you. He has the confidence in whomever he chooses to send them to.” 

Akers, who has also worked alongside Campbell for more than three decades, called the owner “old school,” but in a good way.

“To work with Mr. Campbell takes a lot of energy, because he brings it to the table every day,” Akers explained. “After you get used to it, it’s refreshing, because he certainly makes everyone around him bring their ‘A’ game. He’s a great businessman who learned a long time ago to surround himself with people that he trusted.”

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