07/05/2005 11:00PM

Partners going for California split

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Cot Campbell remembers the 1991 Hollywood Gold Cup quite vividly.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - As bad memories go, 14 years should be long enough to forget all but the most traumatic events. Mention the 1991 Hollywood Gold Cup to Cot Campbell, though, and the nightmare returns with painful clarity.

Campbell, who runs the Dogwood Stable syndicate of limited partnerships, describes the experience as "one of the most horrible weekends in my life," which is saying a lot, since this is a guy who once set fire to the top floor of a boarding house after falling asleep with a lit cigarette.

It was a grim day, though, for Campbell and Dogwood. Summer Squall, the most famous horse to ever carry the Dogwood colors, winner of the 1990 Preakness Stakes and runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, was 2-1 to win the '91 Gold Cup in his first trip to California.

"He had a quarter crack that popped about 24 hours before the race, and he ran like it," Campbell said. "It was terrible."

Summer Squall's foot wasn't the only thing that exploded in late June of 1991. On June 28, the day before the Gold Cup, Southern California was rocked by a 5.8 temblor that was centered in the San Gabriel Mountains, just north of Santa Anita Park. Known as the Sierra Madre earthquake, it killed one woman at Santa Anita (from a falling steel beam) and injured 100 others.

The quake hit at 7:43 a.m., just about the time trainer Neil Howard was getting ready to take Summer Squall to the track across town at Hollywood Park.

"I was in the car, on the way from the hotel, so I didn't know what happened until I got to the barn," Campbell recalled from his Dogwood office in Aiken, S.C. "I'd like to blame Summer Squall's race on the earthquake, and maybe something like that does knock a horse's biorhythms askew, but he didn't run well at all. I'm usually quick to throw off a bad race and move ahead. But that stuck with me a while. You want people to appreciate the horse, and your feelings are hurt for him."

Campbell will have a chance to even the books on Saturday when Limehouse, winner of the recent Brooklyn Handicap, makes his West Coast debut in the 66th running of the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup. And while this year's running lacks the marquee draw of a proven star, a victory by Limehouse would at least set him apart as a horse who can reproduce his form far and wide.

Limehouse is out of a mare by Dixieland Band and named for the classic Dixieland tune "Limehouse Blues," a plaintive song about the woes of London's historic Chinatown section, called Limehouse. The colt's maternal granddam is Blue Jean Baby, winner of the 1987 Sorority Stakes.

As a major stakes winner at ages 2, 3, and 4, Limehouse is already a rare bird among the 37,850 North American foals of 2001. He was precocious enough to win at first asking, going four furlongs at Keeneland. His 3-year-old season was highlighted by victories in the Hutcheson Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby, as well as a fourth-place finish to Smarty Jones in the Kentucky Derby.

"There used to be so many horses who came out in April at 2 and went on to be good older horses as well," Campbell said. "Round Table, my goodness, was one of them. Cicada and Ridan come to mind. Now they're very much the exception to the rule."

A chipped ankle, suffered in the Ohio Derby, ended Limehouse's 2004 campaign and required surgery. This year, it took the colt a few races to regain his old form, but now he seems back on track for Todd Pletcher after back-to-back wins in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs and the Brooklyn.

With a win in the Gold Cup, Limehouse could join the top tier of the Dogwood Stable stars campaigned over the last 32 years. Summer Squall remains Dogwood's lone classic winner, but his daughter Storm Song was a Breeders' Cup winner and champion 2-year-old filly of 1996. Inlander earned an Eclipse Award for Dogwood as champion steeplechaser of 1987, Southjet and Nassipour were major stakes winners on grass, and others have taken down such coveted prizes as the Vosburgh, the Hopeful (twice), the Super Derby, the Alcibiades, the Illinois Derby, and the Secretariat Stakes.

Limehouse runs for one of Dogwood's four-person partnerships, evenly dividing 95 percent of the interest in the horse. Campbell, as managing partner, keeps 5 percent of every runner for Dogwood itself, while Paul Oreffice, former chairman of Dow Chemical, is in for 23.75 percent of the entire stable.

That leaves three 23.75 percent shares in each horse up for grabs. In the case of Limehouse, the other partners are Pittsburgh industrialist John Bitzer, New Orleans car dealer Vernon Brinson, and Dick Kelso, a chemical company consultant from Savannah, Ga.

"There wasn't any stampede for Limehouse," Campbell noted. "He was an attractive yearling, but he wasn't one of those grand-looking things that just takes your breath away.

"I've kind of learned not to get grabbed too hard," Campbell added. "But for $140,000, I thought he was a good buy, even though I really didn't think he was the kind of horse who would someday win the Brooklyn, or have a shot in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Sometimes it's the unwatched pots that are going to boil."