His grandfather placing a bet for him. Going to Churchill Downs with his father on Derby Day in 1942. And, as an owner, leading Dogwood Stable’s Summer Squall from the barn to the track.
Campbell, the 85-year-old founder of Aiken-based Dogwood Stable, recalls all of those events with great enthusiasm and a warm smile. But there’s just one thing missing from a lifetime of Kentucky Derby memories: a win.
Campbell and Dogwood Stable will try to rectify that Saturday when they enter Palace Malice in the Run for the Roses. The Dogwood colt qualified by finishing runner-up at the Blue Grass Stakes on April 13, and will be part of a field of 20 horses that break from the starting gate.
Since Summer Squall finished second in 1990, Campbell has been a regular at the race held the first Saturday in May. This year’s entry, Palace Malice, will be Dogwood’s eighth overall.
“We’ve been second, third and fourth. It’s something you think about every year,” Campbell said. “I don’t brood if we don’t get there, I don’t brood about it if we don’t win it. But I would love to. I don’t imagine there will be many more that I’ll run in.”
It’s been almost a decade since Campbell last had a horse in the Derby, but he is hopeful that Palace Malice could be the one.
Purchased at last year’s Keeneland sale for $200,000, Campbell said the colt by Curlin out of Palace Rumor “looked like an athlete” and was a “big, well-proportioned horse.”
With this year’s Kentucky Derby entries earned by points and not graded stakes earnings, Palace Malice got in at the 11th hour with a second-place finish at the Blue Grass Stakes on April 13.
The colt finished third in the Risen Star Stakes in February, but a “ghastly trip,” as Campbell called it, in the Louisiana Derby in late March produced a seventh-place finish and no points.
“I had talked to (trainer) Todd Pletcher and said if we don’t get any points in the Louisiana Derby but we run a helluva race, I think we should ship him to Kentucky and run him in the Blue Grass,” Campbell said. “He has worked well on that poly track, which all horses don’t adapt to. And, of course, he ran a terrific race in the Blue Grass.”
Java’s War rallied down the stretch to beat Palace Malice by a neck in the Blue Grass. Palace Malice received 40 points for the runner-up finish, and with the 10 from the Risen Star, it was enough to get him in the Derby. Veteran jockey Mike Smith will be in the saddle for Dogwood.
Campbell wrote that his first vivid memory of the Kentucky Derby came in 1934 when his grandfather, a cotton broker, put down a $2 wager.
“(He) pushed me toward selecting Cavalcade,” Campbell wrote. “The great Brookmeade runner got the job done, and horse racing seemed rather interesting to me.”
Eight years later, Campbell attended his first Kentucky Derby. His father had a horse running that day, but not in the Derby.
“I went in 1942. I saw Shutout win it,” Campbell said. “My father was in the horse business at the time, and he went broke in the process. I was exposed to it and got hooked on it and never got over it.”
Campbell entered the horse racing business in the early 1970s after running a successful advertising agency in Atlanta. His idea of racing partnerships, which introduced more than 1,000 people to thoroughbred racing, was revolutionary.
Campbell estimates that he has been to about 30 Derbies, and he even covered it as a journalist and said he was “thrilled to pieces” to share a press box with legendary sportswriters Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon and Furman Bisher.
But the greatest thrills for Campbell have come as an owner.
In 1990, Dogwood entered Summer Squall in the premier race and the Aiken-trained colt was a co-favorite along with Unbridled. Campbell escorted his horse from the barn to the track.
“In those days it was something special to go over, and he was the favorite,” Campbell said. “And people were yelling. Dogwood was popular, the horse was popular, the rider (Pat Day) he had on his back was popular. It was a wonderful moment.”
Summer Squall held the lead, but was overtaken by Unbridled and finished second. Two weeks later, Summer Squall won the Preakness Stakes to give Dogwood its first win in a Triple Crown race.
Ten years later, Campbell entered two horses in the Derby.
“What really knocked me out was in 2000 when we had Trippi and Impeachment and they came out leading the post parade in our colors,” Campbell said. “We’re all singing (My Old Kentucky Home). It really was a great moment. I was proud of the horses and proud to have two, it was symbolic.”
Impeachment finished third, and Trippi was out of the money.
The last time Campbell and Dogwood had a horse in the Derby was 2004. Limehouse finished fourth.
He returns this year as an owner, and he knows why it is special.
“It’s the one race that every human being in America knows about,” Campbell said. “It would be great fun to win it.”
And what would a win mean for Campbell?
“Winning it means immortality in the world of sports,” he said.