The Text of Cot Campbell's Speech to the TCA Dinner
Updated: Saturday, November 6, 2004 2:01 PM
Posted: Saturday, November 6, 2004 2:01 PM
Previous honorees, I am sure, have demonstrated creativity and notable eloquence in thanking the Thoroughbred Club of America for this honor. So I will simply say this: no one who never stood up here before...nor anyone who will ever stand up here in the future will appreciate and enjoy it more than this boy tonight.
It is very moving to look out at so many people who have been important in my life. I see so many great pals here tonight...so many people who have been kind and supportive...my wonderful staff from Aiken – pound for pound the absolute finest there is. My beloved daughters, two great sons-in-law and a world-class granddaughter are here. This could test one's emotional equilibrium.
No human being ever had a greater life than me. The early years were – as you may have gathered – turbulent...by my own doing. But they contributed to the quality of the rest of the journey. I wouldn't change any of it. And I gave 'em a pretty good run there for a while!
Lexington, Kentucky, came into my life when I was eight years old. I came here with my father to see Man o' War.
My father was a Coca-Cola bottler in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1930s, and he had some show horses, which I showed with some success. I was a fat, little rascal. It took about six people to get me on top of the horse; but once I got up there I knew what to do! In those days the premier show horse photographer was named Lester Rounds. His flair for retouching enabled him to practically recreate the horse and the rider, if need be. I have several photos where he has taken about four inches off my stomach. I looked like a Greyhound with fat thighs.
My father, a gambling man if there ever was one, made a strange move in 1940. He sold his bottling plant, bought a farm in Franklin, Tennessee, and went into the racehorse business. I don't know if he planned to breed them, race them, or bet on them. But he did all three -- for a short while. He went broke pretty quickly. But I got hooked on it and never got over it.
After three decades of my life, I began to have more appreciation for the straight and narrow path. I worked for several advertising agencies, and opened my own in Atlanta, and it flourished. When I began to have a little money, I indulged myself and bought a horse with a couple of friends. I conceived the idea of forming a limited partnership, did several, and then in 1971, at the Hialeah 2-year-old sale, I lucked into buying a crooked-legged little filly with a great George Widener pedigree – for $5,000. She could run a hole in the wind! And she changed my life!
Her name was Mrs. Cornwallis. She won the Alcibiades, among other stakes, and became one of the best race fillies of her generation.
With the success of Mrs. Cornwallis, and the innovative partnership vehicle I had unwittingly introduced, soon Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, and other publications were writing about Dogwood, and I suddenly found myself with more horses and more investors.
I decided that I would sell my advertising agency, burn my bridges, build a farm and go full-time into the horse business in Atlanta, Georgia.
Every human being who heard about this decision thought I was a complete lunatic. But there was one exception. That was Anne Campbell. She thought it was a splendid idea, never doubted it for a moment, and contributed so much to its success.
With great support from her, I was not to be deterred. So, tonight you are honoring a man who could be the poster boy for the slogan, "Energy and Enthusiasm can overcome Stupidity and Bad Judgment?"
But, we made progress at Dogwood, though it was tough sledding in the early days. We used the farm as a site for syndicating horses, and for breaking horses for northern outfits.
I came up to the fall sale at Keeneland in 1973 to drum up some breaking business. We did not have one horse on that farm! I had been running ads, and I had prepared all sorts of literature that I took around the hotel lobbies. Periodically, I would check to see if anyone had read any of them, and invariably would find these flyers on the floor with footprints all over them.
Brerry Jones was also pretty new in the horse business at that time, and he came up to me at the sale – God bless him – and he said, "I've got a couple of fillies I'd like to send down to Dogwood and have you break. Would you have room for them?" With a pained expression on my face, I scratched my head, and replied, "Gee, I don't know...we're awful full! But, I'll figure something out. Send 'em on down."
A few minutes later, my farm manager ambled up. This would have been a man named George Archibald, a good horseman, but a man noted for his lack of diplomacy and an inclination toward strong drink. I told George that I had agreed to take a couple of horses for Brerry. With this news, he glared at our new client, and said, "Well, I hope they've had all their vaccinations. Because we've got a hell of a lot of disease in Georgia!"
Good horses and my greatly appreciated partners made us prosper. In the mid-1970s and '80s, we imported many stakes-caliber horses from Europe and South Africa. I loved that, but it got too expensive. So, for many years now, we've bought yearlings and 2-year-olds. I have kept it simple. There was a period when we were trying to do too many things, and the operation got complicated. I was spending all my time with bankers, attorneys, and accountants. I thought, "Where in the hell did the good horses go?"
So, we sold the farm, moved the horses to Aiken, South Carolina, in 1986, under the fine supervision of longtime trainer Ron Stevens. A year later, Anne and I decided Atlanta had gotten too complicated, and we had fallen in love with Aiken and decided to move. The streamlined operation set up shop there in 1987.
Since the days of Mrs. Cornwallis, 1,000 people have participated in Dogwood partnerships. And I have bought at public auction about $100 million worth of horses – not much compared to Sheikh Mohammed, but I've been steady for almost four decades.
I would guess 35 percent of the horses racing today are owned by partnerships of some sort. A lot of those partnerships went to school on us, understandably.
For our success, I thank the wonderful, wonderful horses. Like all of you, I like any horse, but I adore – ADORE – a good horse. We have campaigned 66 stakes winners, two champions, a Breeders' Cup winner, we've represented this country many times in international racing competition. We've run 10 times in Triple Crown races, with a win, second, two thirds, and a fourth. Doesn't eclipse Calumet, but we're doing OK.
Summer Squall won the Preakness, and I thought for about 30 seconds he was going to win the Derby.
The Dogwood story is based on a good idea – an opportunity for a person to participate in racing, limit his financial exposure, and be in the hands of someone who presumably was reputable and knowledgeable.
In more than 35 years of operating, Dogwood has certainly had many clients who were disappointed, but none who have felt that they had been led down the primrose path. That's thanks to direct and accurate communication.
When it comes to buying young horses, I have always marched to my own beat. I believe this business is based to a large extent on luck. Therefore, I want to put my operation in a position to be lucky. And I want to avoid any overwhelming economic catastrophes from being unlucky.
The challenge we face is this: Dogwood wants to compete at the highest level in racing, but we must do it at an economic level. We look for the ones that have fallen through the cracks – uninteresting to the heavy hitters, and not entirely satisfactory to the pinhookers. What does this mean? Less than perfect horses? Certainly. By the standards of today's exhaustive vet examinations, it does mean that. But since 1990, we've run seven of those babies in the Kentucky Derby. None of them won it, but they'd all punched their tickets to take that journey. And that is the great dream!
How many times have we all heard it said that if you go into the paddock before a big stakes race, and examine the horses, half of them would fail a painstaking veterinary examination? That observation has stuck with me, and it has served me well.
I buy horses that average around $150,000. The horse that costs $600,000 may have a little better shot, but he's not four times a better shot. And if something goes wrong he can do some disastrous damage to himself just as easy as my horse and it's going to hurt financially a great deal more.
I love veterinarians, appreciate so much their dedication, knowledge and hard work. Could not get along without them, of course. But I choose not to utilize their services at horse sales.
I am the chairman of the Sales Integrity Task Force, consisting of 20 industry leaders, tackling some thorny problems. We think the Thoroughbred auction sale process needs to be made as buyer-friendly as possible. Our findings are still a work in progress, so I cannot speak for the committee. I speak for myself here.
Commerce in Thoroughbred horses is conducted under the most tumultuous, highly-charged conditions imaginable. Think of the multi-million-dollar decisions that are made standing behind a barn, in a box at a racetrack, in the bedlam of a walking ring at an auction sale. In the traditional business world these deals would be consummated in a sound-proof board room, with charts and voluminous research material.
The commodity we deal in – the racehorse – is the most perishable, volatile, highly explosive, and speculative product imaginable. We want to make it as safe as possible. But breeding, selling, buying, training, and racing horses is always going to be a wild and woolly undertaking. And, there is a certain amount of charm in that! When a computer program can nail down the future effectiveness of a racehorse, it won't be much fun.
Sadly, larceny exists in the world, and horseracing is no exception, but is NOT noteworthy because of it. Of course, one needs to be cautious when approaching any endeavor. It has been said that "The lion and the lamb may lie down together...but the lamb ain't going to get much sleep!"
I've been involved closely in buying racehorses for almost four decades, and no one has cheated me yet. But I listened well long ago to what an old groom warned: "Every shuteye's not sleeping...and every goodbye ain't gone."
I have known in racing many, many people that I would stake my life on, whose word you could take to the bank, where a handshake was sounder than a security agreement.
Now, I am walking a tightrope here, because on the one hand I am heading up a keenly-scrutinized exercise designed to put everyone involved in horse sales on a level playing field. But – speaking personally – I have some empathy for the breeders trying to market these animals, and for the hoops they're having to jump through.
Buying horses is highly speculative and always will be. Many a boardroom giant, invincibly successful in his own field, decides to come into the racing game and conquer it by applying his own brand of business acumen. His confidence and his enthusiasm may cause him to depart from the due diligence he applied in his day job. And it is a strange phenomenon that intelligent people, when they acquire a racehorse, subconsciously become convinced that because it is MY horse, God intended for him to be a good horse. And, if he is not, then someone cheated me or screwed it up.
On another subject: I wonder if today sales horses are not being over-examined. I think some horses and their connections are unfairly handicapped by sometimes overzealous interpretations from the repository. And from rumors that emanate from the repository. An absurdity that one hears repeatedly around sales barns is, "OK for racing; not good for pinhooking." Racing is what we should be doing, isn't it?
Today's sales yearling, after buyer selection, has to pass the heart scan, the biomechanical measurements, the repository, the scope, and finally the rumor mill.
Has breeding for the market instead of the racetrack contributed to the indisputable fact that our racehorses are deteriorating at a rapid clip? We know that the average annual starts per horse in 1970 was 10.22; in 2000, it was 6.97, and in 2003 it had dropped to 6.61!
The American racehorse is not as durable and tough as was his grandfather. That is a fact. Trainers feel they can't train them as hard as they used to. But I also think trainers are subject to fads, to keeping an eye on what other trainers are doing, nurturing their own statistics and not looking bad. And those with 150 horses in their barns can take a more leisurely approach about putting them into the entries.
So, I do believe some horses could run more often than they do. I think when they're right you'd better put 'em in the entries. It's ludicrous to me that there's a growing practice of passing big races with healthy horses so as to be ready for another one way down the road. Skip the Breeders' Cup so as to be ready for the Kentucky Derby – six months later. Or pass the Woodward so we'll be ready for the Breeders' Cup. This is not good for the sport. It doesn't develop fans if they see the horse only two or three times after he gets good, and it lessons the testing of tomorrow's breeding stock.
The end use of a racehorse is to compete in races, and earn money. And we need more end users! We need more racing people, owning more geldings. We need more Azeris, and not more breeders and not more sellers. There are too many people wanting to sell horses. They are titillated with tales of the multi-million-dollar yearlings. One of the keenest observers of the scene recently wrote: "Fifty years ago the glamorous part of the horse business was owning racehorses, so you could go to the track and watch your horses run. Now, it's more glamorous to be involved in the sales scene...a case of the cart pulling the horse."
Now, I want to thank again the Thoroughbred Club of America for providing this highlight in my life. I made a conscious decision not to start thanking individuals tonight, or I would be here all night long. But I must thank one. You've heard Anne's version of our meeting in 1958. Here is mine.
When I walked up to the check-out desk at Agnes Scott College 46 years ago, and asked for Anne Dodd, I felt very sheepish. Why in the hell was I – one who had certainly been "around the block" a time or two – going to a Presbyterian College, in a borrowed automobile to have a blind date with a person a decade younger than me? I was most uncomfortable.
Then the young lady came bouncing in. She waved, signed out for the evening, and came over toward me. I quickly arrived at two impressions: seems to have a terrific personality...DOES have an outstanding figure. I felt better.
We married the next summer. I was poor as a church mouse; barely a year along on the rocky road to revamping what had seemed to be an irreparably bad reputation. I owed a lot of money, but I had a job as an advertising copywriter and was beginning to see a smidgen of daylight. If it was tough, Anne did not know it. And it got pretty good, pretty soon. She was in my corner then. And she has never left it!
No two people ever went on to have a more exciting, colorful, interesting, and ideal life. So, with all my heart, I thank Anne Campbell, a splendid companion on a stupendous journey.
FREE! E-Newsletters from The Blood-Horse!...
Follow the top stories of major racing events, racing previews and results with FREE e-newsletters from bloodhorse.com. As news develops, we'll deliver updates to your inbox. Follow important events moment by moment, step by step!