Cot Campbell was decades ahead of his time with partnerships

Trainer Todd Pletcher, center, hoists the Belmont Stakes

Trainer Todd Pletcher, center, hoists the Belmont Stakes trophy in the winner's circle while standing with jockey Mike Smith, left, and Cot Campbell, President of Dogwood Stables, after Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes. (June 8, 2013) (Credit: AP)

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When King Charles II and his aristocratic cronies ran their horses in 1666 across England's Newmarket Heath, it was their private playground. Three centuries later, not much had changed on either side of the Atlantic. So in 1969, when an Atlanta advertising executive proposed injecting blood that wasn't blue into the Sport of Kings, Wade Cothran ''Cot'' Campbell was not hailed as a genius.

Cot Campbell's brainstorm was creating partnerships to share the fun and the risk of owning a thoroughbred, in which disappointment is always the odds-on favorite. Forty-five years ago, family dynasties such as the Phippses and the Whitneys still ruled American racing, as they had done for much of the 20th century.

''It was not received with great excitement,'' Campbell said. ''Racing is traditional to a fault and not quick to pick up on new ideas, and I think some of the old families were at odds with the idea of a partnership owning a racehorse. There was no outward opposition to it, but neither did they embrace it.''

Mostly, the establishment didn't want to hear about it.

''I remember going to something called 'A Day in Kentucky,' where new owners were invited to come, and I think the people who put it on were about to have a nervous breakdown for fear that somebody would ask me to say something,'' Campbell said.

''But the funny thing is, what I was doing was ideally suited to benefit the state of Kentucky. I was bringing new money and new people into the game. Jim Tafel, who won the [2007] Kentucky Derby, and Tommy Valando, who won the [1990] Breeders' Cup Juvenile, started with us. It just made a lot of sense, but at first it was not received with wild enthusiasm. But I think once the validity of the idea began to sink in, then everybody did embrace it. Lord knows that half the horses today, or more than half, are owned by partnerships, and it's been a boon to racing.''

Nothing sounds sweeter than tooting your own horn, but this innovator from the old school has earned that right. As the pioneer of partnerships, the 86-year-old master of Dogwood Stable in Aiken, South Carolina, has left a lasting imprint on racing. ''Somebody else would have done it,'' Campbell said, ''but I'm proud I did it.''

Ownerview.com lists the 2014 statistics of 58 equine group ventures totaling almost 400 wins and earnings of more than $20 million. Googling ''thoroughbred racing partnerships'' produces more than 76,000 hits. Besides Dogwood, partnerships with Grade I stakes-winners include Sackatoga (Funny Cide), Team Valor (Animal Kingdom) and Centennial Farms (Wicked Strong).

Westbury resident Ed Boden started Drawing Away Stable in 2007 with trainer David Jacobson, and Boden said he has ''150 partners around the country.'' Drawing Away led the New York Racing Association's tracks -- Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Saratoga -- with 89 wins in 2013. Boden said Wednesday that it owns 44 horses, mostly claimers, and its 58 victories this year make it the clear front-runner among partnerships.

Until 1990, according to its website, Dogwood offered 40 shares in a five-horse package. Now it sells four to eight shares, retaining a 4-percent interest in each of its 25 horses. The sales pitch has never changed: ''You might make money, you can write off any money you lose, and you'll have a lot of fun. And if you don't want the thrill, don't do it!''

Campbell has gone from a maverick on the fringe to a revered elder statesman and member of racing's ruling body, the Jockey Club. ''We can say I'm the grand old man of syndication,'' he told NYRA's Andy Serling recently on a radio show from a Saratoga Springs restaurant called The Parting Glass. It's also the namesake of a partnership with nine wins and $423,860 in purses this year.

Campbell always will be grateful to Mrs. Cornwallis, who in 1971 became Dogwood's first stakes winner. "She was a crooked-legged little filly who could run a hole in the wind,'' he said. ''She was one of the best of her generation. God bless her, because she put me in the racing business. Next thing I knew, The New York Times and Forbes were writing about partnerships.''

It took seven more years before he and his people made their big breakthrough. When Dominion won the 1978 Baruch Handicap at Saratoga, they knew they'd arrived. ''When he won it, we walked through the box-seat area and you could feel the thaw,'' Campbell said. '' 'Oh, these people are all right.' ''

Dogwood tries to buy yearlings and 2-year-olds with good breeding and conformation relatively cheaply (low six figures) at auctions in Saratoga, Kentucky and Florida. In the past four years, it's totaled 87 wins and $6.238 million. Palace Malice, winner of the Belmont Stakes and the Met Mile, cost $200,000, and 1990 Preakness hero Summer Squall went for $300,000.

Besides its 77 stakes-winners, Dogwood has owned hundreds of so-so and poor runners, and it's not as if clients weren't warned. As Campbell said: ''We have bent over backwards to rub people's noses in the fact that most horses, like most people, are not cut out for stardom.''

As a concession to age, Campbell has cut back, beginning ''semi-retirement'' at 84 late in 2011. ''I do not want to retire,'' he said. ''I'm not inclined in that direction.

''I want to do this till I drop.''

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