01/21/2010 12:00AM

Like Dogwood, Aikenite is one backed by many


It was in 1971 that Cot Campbell laid the blueprint that has undergone the most sincere form of flattery in the racing game. Nearly 40 years later, syndicated ownership is a widespread way for everyday people to get involved in the sport, but nobody can claim the roots Dogwood Stable can.

It is in this continuing spirit of all-for-one, one-for-all that Campbell, the founder and president of Dogwood, has traveled this week from his Aiken, S.C., home to Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., Saturday. Jockey John Velazquez will wear the familiar green and yellow silks of Dogwood while perched atop Kentucky Derby hopeful Aikenite. Campbell, known for an effervescent personality true to his salesman's background, is predictably enthusiastic about what the Grade 3, $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes could mean for Aikenite.

"It's the first stepping-stone to the Derby, and we'd love to win it," he said. "But he doesn't have to win for us to move forward. Most important is for him to run well enough to take the next step down the Derby trail."

Aikenite, you might have guessed, is what a person who lives in Aiken is called. Campbell's fondness for his adopted hometown and its people aside, the colt was not named for anyone in particular, said Dogwood vice president Jack Sadler.

"It's a great town, and Cot and [wife] Anne have lived here since 1987," said Sadler, who has worked in some capacity for Dogwood since he groomed a horse for the stable and trainer Frank Alexander at Pimlico in Baltimore in 1976. "The town is celebrating our 175th anniversary all year, and on March 7 they're having a day focused on the history of the Thoroughbred horse in Aiken. Having a Dogwood horse named Aikenite with a chance at making the Derby obviously would enhance everyone's enjoyment of what's going on here in the town."

Aikenite actually stands a solid chance of standing squarely in the Derby mix by then. With a solid four-race foundation at 2, the colt has been training steadily in recent weeks at the Palm Meadows training center for Todd Pletcher and figures as one of the favorites for the Holy Bull, a one-turn-mile race that kicks off the 2010 Florida Derby series of races at Gulfstream.

"He shipped straight to Florida after the Breeders' Cup and has been doing very well here," said Pletcher.

Aikenite began his career in August by winning a Saratoga maiden sprint by 2 1/2 lengths. Showing a nice turn of foot, he was second for most of that race before drawing clear.

His second start came in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, and after breaking slowly, the colt persevered to finish third. He then ran a bang-up second to Noble's Promise in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, closing steadily from off the pace in his first try at two turns.

"He ran an absolutely huge race at Keeneland," said Campbell.

Aikenite completed his 2-year-old season by running in the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. He finished fifth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths by the victorious Vale of York.

Perhaps the most visible caution flag for Aikenite is this: He is by Yes It's True, who was strictly a sprinter when earning more than $1 million as a racehorse (1997-99) and has become known mostly as a sire of sprinters. At this early juncture, however, with a running style and demeanor that runs contradictory to the sprinter typecast, Aikenite is showing a willingness to go long.

Aikenite is out of the mare Silverlado, by Saint Ballado, and there is evidence of two-turn ability on the female side of his pedigree.

"I think the colt gets a bit of stamina from the Saint Ballado on the bottom side," said Pletcher. "He actually reminds me quite a bit of Proud Accolade," a Yes It's True colt who was an early Derby hopeful for Pletcher in 2005 and had some success beyond traditional sprint distances.

Pletcher also said Aikenite is a "big, robust colt. He's got a real laid-back demeanor, and he's been pretty rateable and kind in his races. That's allowed him to run farther than his pedigree might suggest and has allowed us to stretch him out effectively to this point."

If Aikenite can continue down the Derby trail, Pletcher said the Blue Grass Stakes on April 10 would be a logical spot "because of how well he handled that surface at Keeneland last fall" in the Breeders' Futurity.

"As for what race he'd have before then, obviously, there are a lot of options out there," he said.

Beginning with a runner-up finish by favored Summer Squall in the 1990 Kentucky Derby, Dogwood has had seven Derby starters. The others were Wallenda (13th in 1993), Smilin Singin Sam (10th in 1994), Jack Flash (seventh in 1997), Impeachment (third in 2000), Trippi (11th in 2000), and Limehouse (fourth in 2004).

Campbell, a tireless promoter who has authored three books and made countless public appearances on racing's behalf, will be leading the Dogwood cheering section Saturday at Gulfstream. Aikenite is owned by a typical Dogwood Stable four-share general partnership, a standard number, although in this struggling economy, some eight-way partnerships have been formed, said Sadler.

The ultimate hope, of course, is to see Aikenite perform well enough so that he can continue on the road to the 136th Derby on May 1.

"The colt hasn't run in 11 weeks, but he's doing extremely well, and we're hoping for a good first run out of the box," said Campbell. "It's exciting just to be in the position we're in. We're going to enjoy it and, hopefully, be able to enjoy it even more as the year unfolds."