Cot Campbell: Less Racing, But More Partners?

There is no question that when one “gets along in years” one tends to think that the good old days were better. I am definitely along in years, and I am pretty damned sure many things used to be better.

That admitted, I wish to address two ponderable points having to do with owning a racehorse.

Number one. The primary reason for ownership would be the excitement of seeing the horse race. The more he does that, the better. The function of a racehorse is to race. But presently they don’t do that nearly as much as they used to, and there seems to be no clear-cut, plausible reason. This is frustrating. We know that today a handful of trainers control most of the high-class horses in America. Their battle cry tends to be, “This horse does better when he’s fresh.” This translates to six weeks or two months between races, and sometimes skipping important and lucrative prep stakes.

While the elite trainers set the tone for this extreme competitive wariness, most all trainers today follow suit – shilly-shallying about “putting ’em in the entries.” Training, training, training.

There are great horsemen training horses today (and I salute them!). There were great horsemen training in the late part of the last century. And those guys ran their horses twice as much, with no history of mistreatment. Why this has changed drastically in recent decades is puzzling. Many of our sharpest turf writers, fans and sage observers bemoan this circumstance, and seek the reason, to no effect. (A refreshing shock took place at this year’s Breeders’ Cup, when Aidan O’Brien, one of the most successful trainers on the planet, started a 2-year-old in his 11th race.)

With purses in big races today being enormous, good horses are not automatically whisked off to stud as quickly as in the ‘80s and ‘90s – a good development. They stay on the battlefield longer, but they do not battle very much. So it’s a wash.

Second point, and a special puzzlement to me. When I (Dogwood Stable) stumbled into the logical idea of forming partnerships to own racehorses a half-century ago, I was convinced that a participating partner would want to feel – subconsciously – that it was HIS or HER horse. Thus, I made no concerted effort to foster fellowship: no partner picnics at the farm, no pre-race dinners, no buttons to wear. I felt that if you were involved in any way with a racehorse, that animal tended to be an extension of your persona. You wanted to feel that you were in it together. So, there was little inclination to recognize one’s fellow partners, and embrace the group ownership concept.

I think I was wrong.

Partnerships that followed me – some definitely having gone to school on the basic Dogwood concept – tended to stress togetherness, and that was an appealing ingredient. What I identified as an understandable, ego-driven objection of not wanting to share the joy of ownership of a horse with others was by no means a partnership drawback. And now this clubbiness has been taken to a new and most surprising level. One truly interesting and unexpected trend today would seem to seriously dilute any brand awareness:

Partnerships are joining other partnerships, with great gusto.

For instance, three or four hedge fund pals, owning a few horses together, think nothing of pairing up with an established partnership made up of – say – 20 people, a single-person stable, and/or maybe a farm … if the right horse comes along. Many horses today run under double, triple, quadruple names on the program, and in a confusing rotation of colors. And still all entities seem to milk considerable joy out of the venture. Even though in such a lash-up there could be a participant owning less than one percent of the horse!

Chris Kay, the New York Racing Association chief executive with an innovative bent, once described participation in racing partnerships as akin to owning a sports franchise. True, but it is hard nowadays to clearly identify the franchises or “teams.”

Years ago, when I was just an avid racing fan, my buddies and I pulled for different outfits whose names were then all over the sports pages of metropolitan dailies. I loved Greentree. Others rooted for such stables as Calumet, Rokeby, Cain Hoy, Darby Dan, Harbor View, Phipps, Sagamore, Wheatley, Brookmeade, King Ranch, etc, etc. You recognized their silks a half-mile away. Of course, most of these privately-owned outfits are no more, and the recognizable stable names in the starting gate often have been the big racing partnerships, of which Dogwood was – but is no longer – one.

Some of the aforementioned complex partnerships not only race together, but buy high-dollar horses together at sales. The consignors are thankful for them, but, interestingly, the market and the sport would probably be better served if instead of a resulting single $1-million yearling, five yearlings averaging $200,000 changed hands

Racing horses is a wonderful endeavor indeed. It has been good to me. I’m sure the sport/industry probably has more pressing matters to ponder than these. But here are two developments that would seem to have some interesting ramifications. I worry about the first, and am simply surprised by the second.

W. Cothran “Cot” Campbell originated racing partnerships in 1969 with Dogwood Stable and campaigned champion filly Storm Song and classic winners Summer Squall and Palace Malice, among others. 

 

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