By Kelsey Riley
The 68th edition of the Aiken Trials in Aiken, S.C., was decorated in Dogwood yellow and green, as the popular local outfit won or placed with all seven of their entrants in the March 13 festivities at the Aiken Training Track.
The Aiken Trials, the first event of Aiken’s "Triple Crown," offered six races on the card, three of which were for 2-year-olds. The purpose of the Trials is to showcase horses that have trained at the Aiken Training Center and other facilities in the historically popular horse town. The riders in the races are typically local exercise riders.
The one-day festival usually draws a crowd upwards of 10,000, and the distances for the six races range from 300 yards to 4 1/2 furlongs.
Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stable, which has been a fixture in Aiken since 1986, won three of the six races and placed with four other horses.
“It was a big day for us,” said Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable. “We won three and were second in three.”
Cordial, a daughter of Hennessy--Western Vision, by Gone West, charged from off the pace to win the first trial of the day, the Gaver Trophy, a 1/4-mile contest for maiden 2-year-old fillies, by 4 1/2 lengths under rider Salvador Torres in a time of :24.3. Cordial, along with the rest of the Dogwood string in Aiken, is trained by Ron Stevens.
Dogwood and Stevens returned with an encore in the second trial, the Coward Trophy for maiden 2-year-old males. A Dogwood stretch duel resulted in a win for the Hook and Ladder gelding Firepole and rider Alejandro Campos, who bested stablemate Stormy The Cat, by Storm Cat, by a half-length. The final time for the Coward Trophy was :24.2.
Dogwood’s third win and second double came in the fifth trial, the Iselin Hall of Fame Trophy, when Deets bested stablemate Limehouse Liz by 6 1/2 lengths in the 4 1/2-furlong sprint. Deets, a 3-year-old son of Forestry --Cabo Sunrise, by Elusive Quality , gave Campos his second win on the card.
Despite their dominance, however, Dogwood was unable to clinch the feature race, the 4 1/2-furlong City of Aiken Trophy. That race went to the 4-year-old filly Stiletto Ridge. A daughter of Snow Ridge-- K.O. Princess, by West by West, Stiletto Ridge had won once previously in seven lifetime starts for owner/trainer Lawrence O’Brien. According to aiketrainingtrack.com, Bruce Snipes’ Nekia Farm, who did not have an entrant in this year’s City of Aiken Trophy, had won the last eight runnings of the Aiken Trials feature.
Second in the City of Aiken Trophy was Dogwood Stable’s Blackberry Road. A son of Gone West--Strawberry Reason, by Strawberry Road, Blackberry Road is a half brother to champion Vindication and grade III winner Scipion, both seven-figure sales yearlings. Blackberry Road was purchased at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale for $235,000 and has placed in three graded stakes.
The Post Trophy, a 300 yard sprint for polo ponies, was won by Eli Yale. The time of the race was not recorded.
Campbell noted that the Aiken Trials have been an important stepping stone for a number of Dogwood’s successful runners.
“We’ve had good luck with it," he said. "Summer Squall was third in the Aiken Trials, but the light came on when he got to Keeneland and he broke his maiden by 11 lengths,” Campbell said. “The same is true with his daughter Storm Song. She was second and went to Keeneland and won by four. It’s a wonderful way for a young horse to get experience. They’re going to race in a few months at Keeneland and Belmont, so it’s a great way for them to get race day experience, and it also lets them run a quarter mile. If they’re mentally and physically mature, we run them.”
Officially founded in 1835, Aiken is one of the most popular horse communities in North America. It has been renowned for polo and other equestrian events, and in 1941, the Aiken Training Track was constructed to make way for training Thoroughbreds.
Aiken quickly became a popular winter training ground for top trainers throughout North America. Top establishments like Claiborne Farm and Greentree Stables have called Aiken home, and top conditioners such as Mack Miller and Woody Stephens have trained there. The training track has produced 39 American champions, including five-time horse of the year Kelso.
The Aiken Trials is the first event of the Aiken Triple Crown. The other events are the Aiken Steeplechase, set for the weekend of March 19, and the Aiken Polo.
The top three finishers in each race of the Aiken Trials can be found at www.aikentrainingtrack.com.