Interview with Cot Campbell
How exactly did the Dogwood "idea" germinate? You were already a successful advertising executive, so what made you take the leap into the racing world?
In the late 60's I was chairman of an advertising agency in Atlanta, and it had begun to flourish somewhat. So I bought a horse with a couple of pals. Because my background was in racing, I managed the partnership (her name was Social Asset: she wasn't!). I then originated the idea - since I was doing all the work - that I should form a limited partnership, serve as general partner and sell shares. Then I got lucky. We had a wonderful old $8,000 claiming horse named Memphis Lou who brought much fun and excitement to the partnership, and then I bought a little filly with a lovely pedigree and a crooked ankle and she was "faster than the word of God!" Her name was Mrs. Cornwallis, and she was one of the best of her generation. She focused attention on what I was doing and soon I had 18 horses and 45 investors, and I thought why don't I just go in the horse business. And God Bless Mrs. Cornwallis - she put me in the game!
What attracted you to racing— even before you started Dogwood?
My grandfather, Dick Cothran, was an original member of the New Orleans Jockey Club. Both my mother and father loved racing, so I was bred to race horses. I was a pretty good show rider as a kid. My father sold the show horses in 1940 and went into the Thoroughbred business. With World War II right around the corner, his timing was not good. He went broke, but I got hooked on racehorses and never got over it. I followed it throughout my early days and wrote about racing frequently when I was a sportswriter on some rather insignificant papers in Florida.
You took a dream, an idea, and made it into a reality and a very successful one. What traits do you have that led to your success in a business where so many others fail?
I've combined a knowledge of horses, an understanding of how to present a service or a product with the notion that the negatives of racing should be overemphasized, if anything. So, we've had some people who may have been disappointed, but they could never get mad at me because I hadn't promised anything. Thank God we have had some wonderful success stories, with a few that truly boggle the mind. Personally, I'm well-suited for what I do because I am optimistic, resilient, practical, and I do not dwell on the past. And I am absolutely nuts about a Thoroughbred racehorse!
Are you having as much fun now as when you started Dogwood?
I adore what I am doing, and I want to keep doing it - on a reduced basis - until I drop. I realize I am the luckiest person in the world. I'm spoiled and I could never do anything else.
Dogwood Stable is now located in Aiken, South Carolina. You started with a farm in Georgia -- why the move?
We started in Georgia because that's where I lived and the whole thing evolved there, and I suddenly found myself in the horse business. The farm was created in 1973, and by the late '80's I was tired of driving 60 miles to it two or three days a week, the Dogwood office being located in Atlanta. The decision was made to move the horses to a leased barn in Aiken, South Carolina, where my good friends Mack Miller and Mike Freeman were running the Aiken Training Track. It seemed desirable to streamline the Dogwood operation, and it appealed to me to get rid of the headaches of running a 422-acre farm with 35 employees. We moved in 1986 and kept the office in Atlanta. By 1987, my wife, Anne, and I had fallen in love with Aiken, and we moved the whole shebang over to this charming horse town. Ron Stevens, Dogwood’s trainer, came over, and so did Jack Sadler and some other key people.
Do you have a favorite horse?
I have several favorites, each one demonstrating qualities that made him or her a favorite. Lord knows Summer Squall would have to be. He won the Preakness, $1,844,000, and was a wonderful sire (a Derby winner, Charismatic, and a Breeders' Cup winner, Storm Song). Summer Squall was a world-class horse and had a dramatic influence on our operation. Another favorite was Dominion. I bought him in England after he was third in the 2,000 Guineas. He came to America and danced every dance! We shipped him from Chicago to Miami and from Saratoga to New Orleans. He was a "five o'clock Saturday afternoon horse" and I adored him. And Palace Malice, of course! He won the Belmont, the Met Mile and four other graded stakes. Earnings of $2,676,135. Three Chimneys Farm bought him for stud duty.
Do you have a favorite race?
One of the most memorable races for me or anyone else was the 1989 Hopeful, in which Summer Squall moved into a hole with two horses on his left and two on his right and when he got in there he got squeezed horribly and what ensued looked like a "pier six brawl." Summer Squall would have gone down if he had had any place to fall. He just "kept trucking." His Preakness was wonderful, so was Mrs. Cornwallis winning the Alcibiades in 1971, our first important win. Palace Malice in the 2013 Belmont Stakes: he stalked Oxbow, put him away at the top of the stretch and won our second Classic. Dominion won the Bernard Baruch in a race I will never forget. It was in 1978 at Saratoga and it helped establish us as a factor in the horse business. He beat a great field, and I can see him now - with his ears flat on his neck and his belly on the ground, out-fighting everybody to the wire. He was a bitch!
Back to the business— explain your strategy for buying horses.
I don't agree with spending enormous money for untried babies. I strongly feel that the success ratio between a $100,000 colt and a $500,000 colt may be tilted slightly in favor of the latter, but he costs five times as much and the increase in expectation of success is relatively small. Simply stated: we put ourselves in a position to get lucky, but avoid exposure to financial disaster.
A great milestone came in July 2013, when we merged with Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, a fine outfit run by Aron Wellman and his partner Brian Spearman. Our client roster was sold to Eclipse and, of course, Dogwood could no longer form partnerships.
This move was made because it was obvious in my life that it was a good time to "lighten the load." While I can no longer form Dogwood partnerships, there is no way I could completely walk away from the business. Therefore, I own a few horses on my own and they will campaign under the name and colors of Dogwood.
I am immensely interested in Eclipse, and they bring me in from the bullpen occasionally to make a comment on one matter or another. However, Aron Wellman has a singularly successful knack of identifying and acquiring sharp horses at modest prices. Therefore, they certainly require no guidance from me.
Many former Dogwood clients that were with us for many years are now active, happy Eclipse participants.
Dogwood Stable is one of the elite group of owners that have won both a Breeders’ Cup race and U.S. Classic races. This is quite an accomplishment. Why do you think Dogwood has achieved this when others have thrown much more money away in the pursuit of such a goal?
I’m proud of some of our big horses. We’ve had 15 entries in the Triple Crown races, and placed in five of them! We have won a Preakness and the Belmont, have had two North American Champions, have won a Breeders’ Cup and have been invited to represent America in two Japan Cups, several Washington DC Internationals and Canadian Internationals. We’ve had more than 80 stakes winners. And, we've had some other horses who couldn't run as fast as me!
What goals did you set for Dogwood Stable that have not been achieved?
We got them all but the Kentucky Derby.
Your book Lightning in a Jar, published by Eclipse Press, was released in 2000. Not only is this book a guide to Thoroughbred ownership, but it intertwines your life history with that of Dogwood’s. How did you come to write Lightning and would you say it has been a worthwhile experience?
The Blood-Horse people felt I had qualifications for writing such a book and offered me a contract, which I accepted. I wrote three hours a day for six months and enjoyed doing it very much. I’m proud of the book because I do think it walks the line of informing and entertaining at the same time. The response has been marvelous and I’m very grateful for that.
Rascals and Racehorses: A Sporting Man's Life was published by Eclipse Press in 2002. This book is different than Lightning in a Jar because it is more anecdotal. What was the basis for writing this book? Do you have a favorite story of a race track “character” of the many that are included in the book? And, finally, has being a twice-published author changed your life in any way?
I’ve been around the race track a long time now, and I’ve heard and been part of a lot of stories. When I wrote the first book, it became clear to me, and the publisher, that I did know a lot of them. It was therefore suggested that I write another book dealing strictly with anecdotes– both poignant and humorous, with a definite drift toward the latter. Warner Jones was one of my favorite characters. He spawned a wealth of anecdotes from me and everyone else. I miss him.