06/02/2011 4:34PM

Q&A: Cot Campbell

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Barbara D. Livingston

President of Dogwood Stable, which has been an industry leader since pioneering the now-popular concept of racing partnerships some 40 years ago.

Birthdate: Sept. 27, 1927, in New Orleans

Family: wife, Anne; daughters, Lila, Cary

Got into racing because. . . . “I was probably bred to like it. My grandfather, in New Orleans, was a founding member of the New Orleans Jockey Club. He loved going racing. My father was a Coca-Cola bottler in Des Moines, Iowa. We had show horses. I showed horses. I was a pretty good rider. My father sold his business, and went into the racing business. He bought a farm in Tennessee, but he went broke. During that time, I got hooked on racehorses. I took care of them, groomed them. It appealed to me. I saw my first Kentucky Derby in 1942. I’ve been interested in it ever since. I saw Man o’ War three times as a kid. I’ve seen just about every great horse that’s ever lived, either at stud or racing.”

So of all those, who is the best horse you’ve ever seen? “Kelso.”

You said that without even hesitating. “He did it for so long and did so many things and carried the weight. I thought he was the greatest thing that ever was.”

Do you take some paternal pride when a partnership like Team Valor International wins the Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom? “I do. I must have been the first one who did partnerships. A lot of the partnerships went to school on us a little bit. That used to irritate me, but it doesn’t anymore. It’s such a logical thing. I bet 50 or 60 percent of the horses today race for some kind of partnership. I take some pleasure out of the fact that some of the big farms and big breeders, which scoffed at the idea, are now doing racing partnerships themselves. I get a kick out of that.”

What made you decide that forming partnerships would be a good idea? “I began to prosper a little in the advertising business, but was by no means wealthy. Necessity was the mother of invention. It seemed like a logical idea. I was dying to own a horse. I got a couple of buddies in Atlanta, and we bought a horse for $1,000. A limited partnership, which I did at the time, was so logical. I was in a town that was flying high, and had friends who were willing to take a shot. As things progressed, the Wall Street Journal wrote about us, Forbes, Fortune, and it began to have more of a national appeal. Partners then came in from far beyond Atlanta. It made sense. It provided the opportunity to own a racehorse, while limiting exposure, managed by someone who presumably knew what they were doing. It’s a great way to participate at a high level.”
When you started Dogwood, could you have imagined the impact it would have on the sport? “No, I didn’t. It was slow to have that sort of impact. It certainly has accelerated the last few years, I suppose because of the economic downturn. But I never imagined this would happen. I was just paddling my own canoe.”

If someone new to the game was going to seek out a partnership, what are the things they should demand, and what are the things that should make one run for the hills? “They should want a track record. They should talk to someone who has been in a partnership. I’d want to know what the partnership has accomplished. I would want my chemistry with the general partner to be good. As for what to avoid, a lack of track record, a lack of reason for being. A lot of people start partnerships because they don’t know what else to do, but they have no unique selling proposition. I’m fearful of lack of reason to have the partnership, or a lack of a background. I wouldn’t want too many people in each horse’s partnership, but that’s my personal preference. I prefer a smaller group.”

And that’s how you now structure Dogwood partnerships, correct? “Yes, that appeals to me. There are many partnerships that have many people, and that’s fine. But I prefer smaller groups. That’s what would appeal to me if I was looking to be a partner.”
Counting Aikenite, who just ran in the Met Mile on Monday, how many horses do you currently have in training? “Forty-four, 2-year-olds on up.”

What do you consider the biggest victory for Dogwood? “It would have to be the Preakness Stakes with Summer Squall. After that, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with Storm Song. Some others are awfully meaningful. We won the Baruch in 1978 with Dominion, and that hyped what we were doing. I’ll always be grateful to him for that and a lot of other things. He was one of the most significant horses we’ve had. But so were Limehouse, Trippi, and some good fillies, like Cotton Blossom, who won the Acorn, and Smok’n Frolic.”

You’ve written several excellent books. Any more still to come? “I’ve written three, one a primer on racing, another amusing stories, and the third was my autobiography. I don’t know what else to write. I’d like to, because it’s stimulating. I enjoy writing.”

Future ambitions? “Of course I’d like to win the Kentucky Derby. I made a bet with a sports book in Reno. I bet $5,000 at 10-1 odds that we’d win a Breeders’ Cup race this year, so I’d like to win that bet. And a goal for the stable, which I have every year, is to win $2.5 million in purses this year.”