AIKEN --- It's hard to venture around Aiken without running into some reminder of Dogwood Stable.
It's even more impressive when you can do the same in New York City.
Cot Campbell and Dogwood's green-and-yellow colors can be found all over Aiken, from mementos in popular downtown eateries to the bumper stickers on cars. In the Big Apple, Campbell is immortalized in the mural of sports figures and celebrities at Gallagher's Steak House, and a replica jockey wearing the Dogwood silks is prominent at famed restaurant 21.
Such is the life of W. Cothran Campbell, 83, and still making news in thoroughbred racing. He recently made the cover of The Blood-Horse with a featured article that lauded him for being a pioneer in racehorse partnerships.
Since moving his operation from the Atlanta area 25 years ago, Campbell and Dogwood have become deeply immersed in Aiken.
"I think Cot and his team have done an excellent job connecting themselves to the community," said J. David Jameson, the president and CEO of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce. "Cot is Aiken's greatest ambassador as he goes around the country. He loves Aiken, and Aiken loves him back. In most citizens' mind, Dogwood's colors are Aiken's colors."
Making the move
Campbell came up with the idea of racing partnerships more than 40 years ago. With a successful advertising agency in Atlanta, it wasn't much of a stretch for Campbell to use his considerable salesmanship skills to bring folks into the world of thoroughbred racing.
"As the George Washington of racehorse partnerships, Campbell began a movement that, without exaggeration, is critical to the survival of the sport," Lenny Shulman wrote in The Blood-Horse .
Campbell estimates he has introduced more than 1,000 people to thoroughbred racing through his partnerships. He is quick to caution that it is not a sure bet, but he also knows it can be quite a thrill with the right horse.
A filly named Mrs. Cornwallis won the Alcibiades at Keeneland in 1971 to give Dogwood its first stakes winner, and two years later Cot and his wife, Anne, opened a 422-yard farm in Greenville, Ga. The operation featured a six-furlong track, two barns and all the necessities for showing off thoroughbreds to prospective clients.
But by the mid-1980s, Campbell had begun to grow weary of making the 60-mile trip from Atlanta to the Dogwood Farm.
Campbell had visited Aiken on plenty of occasions and knew two of its leading horsemen, Mike Freeman and Mack Miller. They paved the way for Campbell to get a barn and move his horse operation to Aiken in June 1986.
"So we moved the horses with the idea the office would stay in Atlanta and I would continue to live in Atlanta, and the horses came over here," Campbell said. "Then I began biweekly trips over here. That got a little tiresome, and simultaneously I kind of fell in love with the town anyway. Anne and I said let's just live over here."
Embraced by area
Campbell began to immediately reach out to the community, and he remembers being "received with open arms."
Then Aiken Standard publisher Sam Cothran arranged for Campbell to speak to the Rotary Club on the day the Dogwood horses arrived in three big vans from Georgia.
"I think there was a very good feeling about us coming," Campbell said. "I think we were well received."
Aiken had long been popular as a winter training destination for some of the nation's top outfits, but it was beginning to reach its peak in the 1980s.
Miller trained horses for Paul Mellon, and Freeman was a top trainer, too.
Campbell, though, was different because Dogwood planned to stay in Aiken year-round. Jameson, who worked for the economic development partnership at the time, remembers that people questioned if it would work.
"Cot's decision to open full time and run 12 months out of Aiken changed thoroughbred training in Aiken," Jameson said. "That was the sea change in thoroughbred training here. That was a benchmark event for Aiken."
Dogwood brought its trainer and farm manager, Ron Stevens, to Aiken. As part of the streamlining operation, Campbell asked Stevens not too long after they had been in Aiken to start his own barn while at the same time breaking and training the Dogwood horses.
"He has had outside horses and he has flourished," Campbell said.
Thousands of thoroughbreds are born each year, but only a small percentage make it to the race track.
Of those, only the cream of the crop make it to racing's Triple Crown events: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
Summer Squall was a yearling in 1988 and ran third in the Aiken Trials in his first racing experience. But the colt was undefeated as a 2-year-old, and the buzz around Aiken in the spring of 1990 was Summer Squall and his pending trip to Churchill Downs.
The town fell in love with Summer Squall, and T-shirts and bumper stickers were everywhere. The Dogwood colt went to the starting gate as second choice to Mister Frisky, and as the field turned for home Summer Squall took the lead.
"I thought he'd won it. He was laying fourth and kind of inherited the lead too early," Campbell said. "I always said that when he turned for home it was too soon, and he kind of thought the race was over, and he heard the 140,000 people screaming and he kind of looked up at the grandstand and kind of lost his focus."
Unbridled slipped ahead of Summer Squall and won the biggest event in racing.
"That was the famous Derby where Carl Nafzger was telling Mrs. (Frances) Genter that her horse was winning," Campbell said with a laugh. "And it was shown about 600 times on television. I thought it was very heartwarming, but I got damn tired of seeing it."
Campbell and Summer Squall exacted revenge two weeks later at the Preakness. With Pat Day aboard, Summer Squall blazed the final 3/16 in 18 seconds to win by 21 lengths.
"That was a nice way to get started over here," Campbell said.
Summer Squall beat Unbridled in four of six meetings, but unfortunately the two could not square off in the Belmont. The Dogwood colt was on Lasix to control bleeding, and the drug was banned in New York at the time.
Summer Squall went on to a successful career at stud, siring 1999 Kentucky Derby winner Charismatic and Storm Song, the 2-year-old filly champion in 1996.
The colt was euthanized in September 2009 because of complications due to old age.
Summer Squall helped put Dogwood's colors on the national scene, and his victory at the Preakness has been the highlight of the stable's tenure in Aiken.
"Winning the Preakness is a heck of a thing. It was a highlight for us," Campbell said. "But we've had some other good ones come out of here."
Dogwood has run in the Kentucky Derby six times with seven horses, and Impeachment came in third in 2000 and Limehouse finished fourth in 2004.
Storm Song won the 1996 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and an Eclipse Award as champion juvenile filly. Inlander, a steeplechaser, won an Eclipse in 1987.
Like most in the horse racing game, Campbell holds out hope of winning the Derby.
"I'd like to win the Derby, but I don't spend a lot of time brooding about it," he said. "It'll happen if it happens, but there's a lot of other good things to win in the meantime, and I'm grateful for those."
Aikenite won in the Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland in April.
Campbell recently made a $5,000 wager in a Reno, Nev., casino that a Dogwood horse would win a Breeders' Cup race this year.
"It's kind of typical of the zany things I do every now and then," Campbell said. "Just to put a little zest in our lives and just for the hell of it, I said that we will win a Breeders' Cup race in November and I got 10-1 odds in Reno."
Not ready to retire
Campbell shows no signs of slowing down.
Looking around his office, he can revisit plenty of his favorite events and moments.
On one wall are photos depicting life in Saratoga, N.Y., from the "grand old days" of the 1920s through the 1940s.
"Saratoga is vital to me. That's to me the cradle of racing," said Campbell, who will head there in July for the racing season. "It's a community very much like Aiken, I think. It has much of the same charm of Aiken."
A picture of Kelso holds a place of honor on another wall.
"The greatest racehorse I ever saw, or ever will see," Campbell said. "I saw him in Aiken for the first time, not run in the Aiken Trials, but work a half mile between races as an exhibition."
The proclamation to Campbell as the Thoroughbred Club in America's 2004 honoree dominates one wall.
"The greatest honor I ever got, I guess," he said. "That was a tremendous thrill."
Not too far away, though, is a reminder of what could have been. The pedigree for Canonero II, with a notation about the horse's crooked right front leg, is framed.
"The horse I turned down for $1,200," Campbell said. "Of course he went on to win the Derby and the Preakness. So whenever I get to thinking I'm pretty bright I can look at that."
Saddle cloths from Dogwood's efforts in the biggest races also line the room.
"I see those names, Impeachment, Wallenda," Campbell said. "I see Impeachment coming down the stretch at the Derby to finish third. That's great fun."
No, Campbell doesn't want the fun to stop. Who could blame him?
"I'm lucky to do what I do. I've had a great life," he said. "I don't want it to ever end. People say why don't you retire. I'd be miserable retiring. I enjoy getting up and going to barns, looking at condition books.
"It has its share of heartbreak, it really does. But you have to be able to turn that off and move on. I can. I'm resilient. I don't brood or sulk over what could have been."