Think about Cot Campbell and adjectives flow majestically like a rolling river. Enthusiastic. Innovative. Inspirational. Delightful. And those just scratch the surface in describing the man who became a giant in thoroughbred racing.
He rubbed elbows with princes and embraced paupers. He would spin a yarn, write a book, laugh at himself and find hidden jewels among thoroughbred horses.
Along his 91-year march through life, he rode show horses, drove an ambulance and piloted a speedboat in water-ski shows. He built a high-powered advertising agency, then walked away to chase his dream.
Whether in the owner’s box at Churchill Downs or Saratoga, or wandering among the grooms and hot walkers in the early morning hours at the backside of race tracks, he seldom met a stranger. He would be at home with the lofty and the least.
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Combine the pieces of the puzzle and he would be the ideal character to illustrate the most interesting man in the world.
Oh, yes; he also revolutionized the thoroughbred racing industry and built Dogwood Stable into a racing powerhouse.
Cot Campbell died Saturday in his beloved Aiken, South Carolina, leaving a void that cannot be filled in the thoroughbred world.
The Bloodhorse, an authoritative racing publication, called him “an industry icon” and he was. His obituary will chronicle his many honors, and no achievement was more important than his introducing syndication of thoroughbred ownership.
Until he dove headlong into racing, individuals owned the horses, and only the very wealthy qualified. Told “we don’t do that” with his idea of selling shares in a thoroughbred, he answered, “Why not?”
A filly named Mrs. Cornwallis became the first of Dogwood’s 80-odd graded stakes winners in 1971, providing the springboard for syndication to become a way of life in racing. He once figured he had introduced more than 1,200 people into racing and that number just scratches the surface in including other operations.
He sold “a lot of sizzle” in the early days, but he soon dealt on merit. Summer Squall won the 1990 Preakness and sired both double-classic winner Charismatic and Storm Song, the juvenile filly of the year. Inlander won the Colonial Cup and earned Steeplechase Horse of the Year honors. Just five years ago, at 86, he — “and all of Aiken,” he told the national television audience — celebrated a triumph by Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes.
Compared to the high-rollers in racing, Campbell spent peanuts to purchase horses for Dogwood, the operation he moved from Georgia to Aiken in 1986. He had a keen eye for overlooked thoroughbreds who might _ or might not _ excel on the track.
“I love horses, I love race horses and I really love fast race horses,” he liked to say with a twinkle in his eye. He found plenty to carry Dogwood’s distinctive green and yellow silks.
This summer, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame named him one of 24 people in the shrine’s Pillars of the Turf. He responded in his acceptance speech with his classic self-deprecation, calling himself “...the poster boy for the slogan ‘Energy and enthusiasm can overcome stupidity and bad judgment.’ ”
About the only goal missing from his credentials is winning the Kentucky Derby. He came close. He sent eight thoroughbreds to the post in America’s most famous race and saw his charges finished second (Summer Squall), third (Impeachment) and fourth (Limehouse).
That omission cannot dim his achievements. Although short in stature, he was a giant. His legacy is one to treasure.