Cot Campbell is the Aiken Standard person of the year
A dream unfolded on June 8, 2013, one that was surreal, but for one of Thoroughbred racing's most iconic figures, it couldn't have been more meaningful.
Dogwood Stable's Palace Malice won the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, but it was the way that he did it, seizing command before entering the top of the stretch, before drawing off to score a 3¼-length victory. The aftermath set off a dramatic burst of joy, something that was palpable throughout the community. However, it was Dogwood Stable's President W. Cothran Campbell, who said it best when he exclaimed to the global television audience, “They'll be dancing in the streets of Aiken tonight!” that has left an indelible imprint on the city's residents.
“I will always think back to when he was at the top of the stretch, and when I saw him put Oxbow away, it was like an explosion in my brain,” said Campbell, who's now 86 years young. “I said to myself, 'What are we doing now?' I feared that Orb was coming at him, and then when it was clear about the eighth pole, not only was Orb not going to get to him, but we were widening out on him. That was an exquisite moment in my life. Good Lord!
“It was like a dream afterward, going in like a tidal wave with all of us moving down toward the winner's circle, leading the horse in. It will never cease to provide great excitement, memories and ramifications.”
Taking a chance
The opportunity to become involved with Thoroughbred racing fulfilled a lifelong dream for Campbell, who left a successful career in advertising as a partner in Burton-Campbell Inc., to pursue his passion. The horseman never envisioned the success he would eventually achieve. His pioneering vision in Thoroughbred partnerships has set Dogwood Stable apart as a standard in excellence.
“It all happened very gradually,” said Campbell. “Burton-Campbell was flourishing, and I had made enough money to buy a horse and indulge in a lifelong desire, having grown up around horses. Then I came up with the syndicate idea. I was just playing around with the concept, and it took off. I suddenly found myself faced with the decision of either being in the advertising business or in the horse business, and I chose the horse business. Lord, here I am, and what a fabulous life I've had.”
The risk paid dividends and Campbell has never looked back. Many of the horses campaigned at racetracks nationwide are now owned by partnerships.
Dogwood Stable has had nearly 80 stakes winners, two Classic winners and two Eclipse Award winners.
“In order for Dogwood Stable to succeed, we had to come occasionally with good horses,” said Campbell. “I was painstakingly pointing out to anyone who was interested in us that most horses do not succeed. It's not a business for widows and orphans. It's speculative, but for us to have gotten to where we are, we had to come with an occasional big-time horse, and we have. Both Palace Malice and Summer Squall are big-time horses. We've had a good many others that have been significant racehorses, high profile horses, like Trippi, Limehouse, Smoke and Frolic and Storm Song. We've had to come along with some good horses. Palace Malice has come along in the twilight of my career. That's especially gratifying.”
Belief and behind-the-scenes
If it's true that there's a great woman behind every successful man, no one would have to look any farther than Anne Campbell, Cot Campbell's wife of 54 years.
“Anne has supported me 100 percent in everything I've ever done,” said Campbell. “I've led an unorthodox life, and she's been right there to help make it happen. I think when I said in Atlanta, Ga. in 1973, 'I'm going into the Thoroughbred racing business.' I think more than 99 percent of the people in the world thought I was insane, but Anne was the lone exception, She was all for it. She has certainly made it happen.”
Appreciative of Aiken
Campbell relocated Dogwood Stable to Aiken in 1986, a move he's never regretted.
“If you're involved in Thoroughbred racehorses, the ideal place to make your home is Aiken, S.C. because there's a great appreciation for the horse here,” said Campbell. “And if you do accomplish something, it's nice to have everyone appreciate it, join in on it and be part of it. Aiken has no greater fan than me. I'm happy that on the two occasions I was on network television at the big races, I mentioned the name of Aiken, South Carolina. Nobody appreciates a life that has been as colorful, unorthodox, up and down and as great of a life as I've had. I'm lucky because most people can't say that. I'm going to continue it with full participation as long as I can.”
Honors and recognition
An incredible career worthy of respect and admiration has earned Campbell, a World War II veteran, a number of prominent accolades. He has been honored by the Thoroughbred Club of America; received the Eclipse Award of Merit, John W. Galbreath Award for entrepreneurial excellence and leadership in the horse industry; the Race Track Industry Program's Clay Puett Award; and is a member of The Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred Club of America and the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. Campbell will receive the ThoroFan Award, an honor presented annually to a person or entity who substantially contributes to building the fan base in Thoroughbred racing, on Jan. 17 at Gulfstream Park.
“I've had recognition and that's meant a lot to me,” said Campbell, with a chuckle. “It's like going through life, having a report card like a kid in school, and then having the teacher put some A's on there. I'm thankful I've gotten a few A's.”
Giving back to the industry
But it's Campbell's concern for the welfare of the people on the backside of the racetrack – those who play an integral role in the industry, but often don't receive recognition for their efforts – that has also made a significant impact on Thoroughbred racing. The horseman created the Dogwood Dominion Award in 1993 to pay homage to the industry's unsung heroes, recognizing them for their contributions. The final Dogwood Dominion Award was presented in 2012.
“I think it's imperative that the groom and the exercise rider get credit,” said Campbell. “I'm interested in the life of the backstretch people. My wife is very much involved in that, and I am too. I take pride in knowing a lot of little guys, knowing their names, and have them know me as a friend, so that is important to me.”
A life well lived
Much of Campbell's life has been chronicled in his books, “Lightning in a Jar,” “Rascals and Racehorses” and “Memoirs of a Longshot,” but it's his optimism and enthusiasm that's contagious, coupled with his charismatic personality and zest for living that has made him a winner.
“The first third of my life was tumultuous by my own doing, but it was colorful and exciting,” said Campbell. “But I changed my course of action and have been lucky enough to start two businesses that flourished and were highly recognized, the advertising agency and the horse business. I've been married to a fabulous woman for 54 years. God almighty. I'm lucky.”
Ben Baugh has been covering the equine industry and equestrian sport for the Aiken Standard since 2004.