Cot Campbell, 1927-2018: Racing Visionary Revolutionized Horse Ownership

by | 10.28.2018 | 12:12am
W. Cothran "Cot" Campbell

On Aug. 3 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a dozen individuals were inducted in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame as Pillars of the Turf in recognition of their “extraordinary contributions” in leadership positions or as pioneers in the Thoroughbred industry.

W. Cothran “Cot” Campbell was one of the inductees, honored for his game-changing creation of shared ownership of racehorses. He founded Dogwood Stable, the first known racing partnership, in 1969.

Just eight weeks shy of his 91st birthday, Campbell was nattily attired in a bright yellow sport jacket (replaced with the Hall of Fame Member's blue blazer after he came onstage to deliver his remarks). He didn't have the hop in his step he possessed in his younger days when prowling Saratoga's clubhouse boxes or working his way through consignors' barns at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton yearling auctions. But he was bright-eyed and mentally sharp, delivering a concise, funny and poignant acceptance speech.

“I'm honored to be a Pillar of the Turf and I'm flabbergasted to be a Pillar of the Turf,” Campbell said in that familiar singsongy Southern accent. “How could I not be when my name is associated with all the distinguished people that are in that category?

“By the way,” he said, adding a pause here and there for perfect effect. “I want to point out that, as of yesterday, there were 12 Pillars of the Turf. Today, there are 12 more Pillars of the Turf – 24 in all. The only one that is alive is me. Now you may not be very interested in that, but I am. I'm the only one that can change the statistic, and I don't intend to do it.”

Sadly, less than three months later, Campbell has joined the other Pillars of this great game. He died on Saturday at his home in Aiken, S.C.

“Years ago I bought a thousand dollar filly with two pals and thus I stumbled into the idea of group ownership of a racehorse,” he told the Hall of Fame gathering. “It made sense and it caught on. Well over 1,200 people have come into racing through Dogwood. And I believe half the people racing horses in America are racing in some sort of partnership.

“I have lived an absolutely wonderful life: exciting, adventurous, glamorous, bizarre, tumultuous. And much of the quality of my life is due to the fact that I married a marvelous woman 59 years ago. Anne Campbell has gamely supported and contributed to any venture I have ever launched.

“All my life I have been besotted with racehorses. Now as I pointed out I've got a little age on me. I'm probably the only person in this building – or maybe this town – who ever saw Man o' War. And I thank Man o' War because he lit the fuse that caused me to pursue an absolutely wonderful life.

“Originally, my introduction of the concept of forming partnerships to own racehorses did not meet with wild enthusiasm within our industry,” he said. “Early on, some very astute racing people advised me to abandon the partnership idea. But my blood was up and I pushed on, and you see before you today the poster boy for the slogan, 'Energy and enthusiasm can overcome stupidity and bad judgment.'”

Cot Campbell, born in New Orleans, La., on Sept. 27, 1927, knew something about slogans, having built a career as a successful advertising executive in Atlanta, Ga. That success gave him the resources to buy his first racehorse and form that initial partnership. After a few years in racing, he made Dogwood his vocation and his avocation.

“I loved the people in the ad business,” Campbell once said. “They were zany, creative, sharp people. We had a lot of fun and not a lot of rules.”

Both Cot and Anne Campbell made racing fun, too, especially for their partners, many of whom stayed with Dogwood for decades. There were parties in Saratoga and Lexington, Ky., and a gossipy newsletter that documented the partnership's social and racing activities in a light-hearted way.

Campbell loved to write, authoring three books (“Lightning in a Jar,” “Rascals and Racehorses,” and “Memoirs of a Longshot”) and penning commentaries for Paulick Report and other industry publications. A member of The Jockey Club, Campbell was an advocate for medication reform, writing a 2015 opinion piece in support of federal legislation that would create an independent, non-governmental agency to oversee medication policy and enforcement. (Click here for his final Paulick Report article from November 2017.)

Racing was meant to be fun, Campbell always insisted, telling prospective partners that racehorse ownership was not the kind of investment where you should ever expect to make a profit. He liked racing at tracks where the grandstands were full, putting a premium on Keeneland and Saratoga and on big race days at other tracks.

Cot Campbell and friend and Dogwood partner Paul Oreffice (left) lead Todd Pletcher-trained Palace Malice through victory lane after Belmont Stakes

Dogwood owned some very good horses, including seven million-dollar earners. The first of the partnership's 80 stakes winners, Mrs. Cornwallis, won the 1971 Alcibiades at Keeneland. Others included 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall, 1996 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Storm Song, and 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice.

“He was a great man,” said Palace Malice's trainer, Todd Pletcher, who got a handful of horses from Dogwood Stable when he took out his trainer's license in 1996 after working as an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas. “He always embraced the game with great enthusiasm. He loved horses, he loved horse racing and his impact on the industry, not only through Dogwood Stable, but through the number of new people he introduced to the game at the highest level is a major contribution to racing as we know it today. He was always very kind and knew every groom's name. He was a terrific person to work for. He gave a lot of young trainers over the years an opportunity and a chance to prove themselves.”

Among many awards bestowed upon him over the years, Campbell was the Thoroughbred Club of America's Honor Guest in 2004 and in 2012 received an Award of Merit at the annual Eclipse Awards ceremony. In 2011, Dogwood became the first racing partnership to earn a gold tray from the Keeneland Association, in recognition of eight graded stakes wins.

One of Dogwood's earliest stakes winners was Dominion, a hard-knocking campaigner who went to stud in England and became a successful sire of blue-collar type runners. Campbell created an award in his honor, the Dogwood Dominion Award, given to “unsung heroes” in the horse industry. Over an 18-year period, from 1993-2010, a variety of men and women – some involved in racehorse aftercare, others in backstretch chaplaincies and social services – were recognized by Campbell for their contributions with an award luncheon at Saratoga, a bronze statue of Dominion and $5,000 honorarium.

In 2013, Campbell went into semi-retirement, merging Dogwood with Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. Dogwood kept campaigning their existing stable, but newly formed partnerships were done with Eclipse, which took on many of Dogwood's longstanding partners.

Campbell still had the itch to race, however, and earlier this year partnered with Eclipse in an Exchange Rate colt named Pipes, buying the horse for $115,000 at the OBS April Sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Trained by Gary Contessa, Pipes broke his maiden at Belmont Park on Sept. 9.

“He was not only the first syndicator, he was just as importantly the best,” said Gary Fenton, managing partner of California-based Little Red Feather, one of the countless partnerships that followed Campbell's lead into the shared ownership business. “He laid a foundation and blueprint for the industry. With the explosion of horses owned by syndicates and parnerships the last few years, we may look back at his vision as saving the game.”

“Cot was endlessly generous and devoted his time and spirit to a variety of philanthropic causes,” said Chris Kay, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association. “He was a pioneer, and we were thrilled to be able to honor his life's work by inducting him into the Saratoga Walk of Fame in 2016. On behalf of the men and women of the New York Racing Association, we send our condolences to Cot's family and friends.”

Campbell is survived by his wife, Anne, and daughters Lila Campbell of Atlanta; Cary Umhau (Andrew) of Washington, D.C.; six grandchildren (Campbell Glenn, Brady Tindall, Cot Tindall, Lila Stiff (John), Carter Umhau, Charlie Umhau); three great-granddaughters (Dorothy, Eleanor, and Sally Stiff); and one sister, Sally Campbell Waldron (Jim) of Atlanta.

A Celebration of Cot's life will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 at First Baptist Church, Aiken, S.C., with Rev. Ronnie Brewer officiating, followed by a reception on the grounds of the Aiken Training Track, 538 Two Notch Road, Aiken. (wear comfortable shoes)

Pallbearers are members of Cot's family including Brady Tindall, Cot Tindall, Charlie Umhau (grandsons), John Dodd (nephew), John Stiff (grandson-in-law) and Charlie Hull of Atlanta, Georgia, long-time friend who introduced Cot and Anne.

In lieu of flowers, please direct memorials to the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, New York Division, 2150 Hempstead Tpke., Elmont, NY 11003 (RTCANY.org).

Cot's online guest book may be signed by visiting www.shellhousefuneralhome.com.

Remembering Cot Campbell: 'Endless Gratitude to the Father of Racing Partnerships'

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