05/07/2010 12:00AM

Dogwood shows its patience


The advertisements are in every racing publication and on every concurrent website, asking prospective owners to sign up for any number of racehorse partnerships. It's a common way to enter the game these days, but back in 1973, not so much.

That's when Cot Campbell, a former advertising executive, launched Dogwood Stables, and today, 37 years later, Dogwood remains one of the leading avenues for owners to enter the game. Some, like the late Tommy Valando, the Broadway music publisher who owned Eclipse Award winner Fly So Free, eventually go on their own after getting their feet wet with Dogwood. Others, like retired Dow Chemical executive Paul Oreffice, keep coming back, taking positions in partnerships every year.

"It was not applauded when we first started," Campbell said Friday from Dogwood's office in Aiken, S.C. "Some of the old-guard traditionalists looked askance. Now you see everybody and their dog is doing it. Every major breeding farm is doing it, guys who used to ask me - how do you deal with all these people?"

Campbell, a gregarious man and a published author, loves the nature of partnerships. But when it comes to decisions regarding Dogwood horses, he makes the final call. As much as he wants to win the Kentucky Derby, Campbell held Aikenite out of that race, even though the colt had enough graded stakes earnings to make the field. Instead, Campbell decided to await the Preakness Stakes on May 15. If Aikenite is successful, it will come on the 20th anniversary of the biggest win in Dogwood history, the Preakness victory by Summer Squall in 1990.

"We had a very friendly rivalry with Carl Nafzger and Unbridled," Campbell said. "I thought we were going to win the Derby for 30 seconds, until Unbridled went by us. So we were anxious to run in the Preakness. Coming back and winning, we enjoyed that, and I say that in the friendliest possible way. Carl's a great guy. Everybody saw that with the video of him talking to Mrs. Genter at the Derby. Nevertheless, we wanted to win."

Campbell calls that Preakness win "sort of surreal, like a dream."

"You're carried along by it," he said. "I do remember Laz Barrera's son Albert on the chair in front of me, and he blocked my view, so I grabbed him by the seat of his pants and pulled him down so I could see. ABC had miked me, but I have a bad of habit during a race, when I get excited, of yelling, 'God damn, God damn.' I must have yelled 'God damn' about 85 times. They had to cut it."

If Aikenite wins, perhaps that phrase will be uttered by trainer Todd Pletcher. He won the Derby with Super Saver, who is owned by the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt. But Pletcher also trains Aikenite, so Pletcher in essence will be running one of his horses against his Derby winner in the Preakness.

"Being in Todd's barn, you're going to run into that," Campbell said. "It makes a diplomatic challenge for Todd. But whatever Super Saver did in the Derby, that's no reason to alter our decision regarding the Preakness. We have to do what's in the best interest of our horse."

Aikenite is named for the residents of the town where Dogwood is located. This year is the 175th anniversary of the city of Aiken, "so there's been a lot of activities here," said Mary Jane Howell, Dogwood's publicist.

Aikenite - whose ownership partners include Oreffice, Carl Myers, John Bitzer, and Margaret Smith, as well as breeder Brylynn Farm - was pulled from Derby consideration following a disappointing performance in the Blue Grass Stakes.

"I didn't want to run him in the Derby off the way he ran in the Blue Grass," Campbell said. "It was an uncharacteristic race. Not having a race for 50 days prior might have accounted for that, but, regardless, we didn't want to go to the Kentucky Derby, with a 20-horse field, off that effort. We decided to run in the Derby Trial to prove to ourselves whether he was a trifle short in the Blue Grass and then wait three weeks for the Preakness."

Aikenite was a rallying second in the Derby Trial to Hurricane Ike, who also is headed to the Preakness.

"I loved his Derby Trial," Campbell said of Aikenite. "He came from way out of it. That's the way he likes to run. He's going to be 15-1 in the Preakness, but it's a brass ring worth grabbing."

In other Preakness developments Friday:

* Javier Castellano was named to ride Aikenite.

* Noble's Promise, who finished fifth in the Derby, will skip the Preakness and instead await the Group 1 St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 15, trainer Ken McPeek said in a text message. McPeek has had that one-mile grass race on his radar for Noble's Promise for several weeks.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee