Jim Mulvihill: Thanks, Cot Campbell, for being with us. He’s going to stand by for a second. Before we get to the interview, I just want to remind everybody that today on this call we’re focusing on the weekend’s two Breeders’ Cup Win-and-You’re-In races. Those are the $1.5 million Whitney, which is the richest race of the Saratoga meet for older horses at 1 1/8-miles, as well as the Clement Hirsch at DelMar. That’s for older females at a mile and a sixteenth. The winners of these races receive automatic berths into the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, respectively, with their entry fees paid. Now, the Whitney will be broadcast nationally Saturday as part of an hour-long program on NBC. That show also includes the Test Stakes from Saratoga for three-year-old fillies at seven-eighths.
Other major stakes this weekend to remind you about include the Grade 1 Vanderbilt for sprinters at Saratoga, as well as the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby with Kentucky Derby alums Candy Boy, Tapiture, and Vicar’s In Trouble headlining a card with eight stakes worth nearly $2 million.
Just so everybody knows, next week we won’t have a call. There are actually, surprisingly, no Grade 1 events on the calendar the weekend after this one. But we do want to remind you to mark your calendars for a couple of important events that aren’t on the track. Those are the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame has their annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony August 8th at 10:30 a.m. Eastern, and then the following Sunday, August 10th, also in Saratoga it’s the Jockey Club Roundtable Conference on matters pertaining to racing. That two-hour conference features prominent speakers from within and beyond the industry. That’s at 10 a.m. Eastern on August 10th, and even though that’s for invited guests only, anybody can watch via a live web stream at JockeyClub.com.
Now let’s get back to our guests. Later in this call, we’re going to talk to Al Stall, who’s also in the Whitney, and Jerry Hollendorfer, who saddles two in the Clement Hirsch. But before that, we’ve got Cot Campbell on the line. Cot, thanks again for joining us.
Cot Campbell: Glad to be with you. It’s a pleasure.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Cot Campbell, let’s see. Just to run down the quick bio, Cot Campbell grew up in New Orleans. He was an ad executive in Atlanta when he started his first partnership in 1969. Since then he’s campaigned 77 stakes winners, including a Preakness winner in Summer Squall, a Belmont winner in Palace Malice, and a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner in Storm Song. Of course, the stable star is Palace Malice, who’s four for four this year with his most recent score being the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes day.
So, Cot, let’s talk about the Whitney. Now, they doubled the purse this year. It’s $1.5 million. At what point did you and Todd circle this race on your calendar?
Cot Campbell: I think we circled it early on. One it’s Saratoga and we love weathering up here, and it was logical. I think about a month ago, right after the Met Mile, I said we would run in the Whitney, the Woodward, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Breeders’ Cup. In a perfect world, we would make those four.
Jim Mulvihill: Right. Okay, and so you’re up in Saratoga right now. What can you tell us about how Palace Malice is doing and how he looked in the work on Saturday?
Cot Campbell: He looked terrific. He’s a good work horse. He went 59 and 3, I had him, and galloped terrifically; looked like he was just galloping. He’s very sharp and he’s a little edgy. You know, he’s like a fighter that’s getting ready to fight. He’s a little feisty now. If you walk up to him, you’d better have a peppermint in your hand.
Jim Mulvihill: You know, in that time after the Met Mile when he got a little bit of a freshening, was he still on track with Todd, or did you all send him somewhere to relax away from the track?
Cot Campbell: We did not send him anywhere. He stayed with Todd and he just eased up on him, you know, let him skip three or four works. That was—he was either going to have to freshen him then or in the fall, and we decided that was the time to ease up on him. We did during the winter, as you may know, give him two months in Aiken after the Breeders’ Cup last year, and I think he really flourished after that.
Jim Mulvihill: Right. You know, right now he’s the consensus top older horse-in-training and I know you’ve been a—you’ve been confident in him all along. I mean, there’s even a future book bet available in Nevada mostly because of your interest in betting him to win Horse of the Year. So, I mean, how do you size up his chances at Horse of the Year as well as the—the Horse of the Year contest right now, midway through 2014?
Cot Campbell: Well, I think right now he’d be a strong candidate to be Horse of the Year. I called to try to make that bet in January with the William Hill Bookmaking Agency, and they said “We like the bet, but we can’t take it because it’s based on a ballot, but maybe the state of Nevada will give him special dispensation.” So at any rate, then we win three stakes and then they come back to me and they said, “We have got special dispensation. We can offer the—we can take the bet and—or you could get 12-1.” So I laid some bets on him. Had they been able to take it in January, I bet I’d have gotten 40-1.
Danny Brewer: Okay, he’s stretching out a little bit in distance. He’s been very successful at a mile. This is stretching out just a little bit. Are you—does distance concern you? I mean, I know he’s Belmont champ, so is distance a concern at all?
Cot Campbell: I would say his ideal distance is a mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter. Of course, he’s won from six-and-a-half furlongs to a mile-and-a-half, so—but I think it’s great for him.
Danny Brewer: I want you to talk for just a second about the balancing act as an owner between the business of horse racing and the sport of horse racing. With a horse like this, four years old, very successful, when do you say “when” and let the business side take over instead of the sportsman side and continue to run him?
Cot Campbell: That’s a good question, and I would say in our case we are racing people, but we don’t want to be stupid, either. I have told—many farms have called about the horse, I’m happy to say, and I’ve said let’s wait until this fall, see where we are, see if his—how his level of enthusiasm and energy is and what we’ve accomplished at Saratoga. Then we will talk to—I think there have been 10 farms—make a point of talking to each of you, and we’ll see what we’re going to do. But I think that’s the way we’ve left it.
The scenarios are that we could retire in this fall. Another scenario is we could go another year. We’ll have to figure that out as we go along.
Danny Brewer: How tough is that decision-making process for you, as a competitor and as a sportsman, but also as a—obviously, you’re a pretty good businessman too, so how tough is making that decision going to be for you?
Cot Campbell: It’s tough, and I would talk to each of the silent partners and give them my ideas of what the options are. But I would say we are racing people, and you certainly wouldn’t want to leave any money on the table, but the horse would have achieved a level of value, I think, that maybe he would always have. Of course, you’d race him next year and it was an absolute bust, you’d be hurt a little bit, but not a great deal. But I think you have to think okay, he’s won these races. How can he ever be worth less than blank, even if he didn’t have a good year next year. Knowing the horse, if he was sound and enthusiastic, you would expect that he would have. So it’s a tough decision, and I would want to do it in the best interests of the partners and would discuss it with each of them and lay out the options.
Ed McNamara: I was speaking to the Pletchers last week and Todd said that you were one of his first clients. He said he believed it was back in the spring of ’96. I was wondering what drew you to him when he was still a young trainer just starting out and how far do you go back with JJ?
Cot Campbell: Don’t go back far with JJ, but when Todd was with Lukas I would see him up here, scurrying around the box section and always, you know, going about his business. They were winning a lot of races. Clearly, he was the guy in charge of the division at that time. When he went out on his own in, I guess, late ’95, he told me just in a matter-of-fact way, I (inaudible) on my own. I said good, good luck. Then early in ’96 I did send him a few horses. I think he had maybe seven or eight horses and I sent him four or five, and I think Todd has always been very grateful for that. So we go back, what, 17 or 18 years, and it’s been a marvelous relationship. I could not—I could go on for a half hour with all of his great attributes.
Ed McNamara: Is this the most exciting horse you’ve had with him, considering you’ve got Horse of the Year potential?
Cot Campbell: Yes, sure he would be. We’ve had some very good horses. We’ve had some nice fillies. We’ve had Lime House, and Trippi and we’ve had plenty of nice horses, but none that could come up to this horse. I mean, he is a serious, serious race horse and he’d be the most exciting one we’ve had.
Ed McNamara: Okay, thank you very much. Good luck Saturday.
Cot Campbell: Appreciate it.
Operator: Thank you. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question, please press star, one, at this time.
Our next question comes from Tom Pedulla of America’s Best Racing. Please go ahead.
Tom Pedulla: Yes. Hey, Cot. When you say you’re racing people, does that mean maybe you would lean toward running him again next year? I mean, if that’s your gut at this time?
Cot Campbell: I think if the horse were absolutely sound and, like I say, he had this good enthusiasm and energy level, I think we would certainly want to consider sending him to Aiken again for a couple of months and going again next year. A lot of that depends on what offers are made, and I have studiously avoided soliciting offers at this time. I know there’s some big ones out there ready to appear. But I think like a lot of people, our clients didn’t get into—didn’t buy share in this horse to try to make a profit, try to make money. They would love to do it and they are going to do it, but they do—they love the excitement of racing and how—you can’t buy that. You absolutely cannot buy running in these big races. You—it just has to come to you. We’ve seen the Derby come by and people beforehand pay outlandish money for horses just so they can run them in the Derby. So it’s a fabulous lifetime experience, and we would want to weigh whether we want to try to have that experience again or whether we’d want to cash in and get the dough. I don’t want to say we’re leaning either way. I think we’ve got to see in a couple of months where we are and I’ll—as I say, I’ll act in the best interests of the partners.
Carol Holden: I think a lot of our listeners may not go back as far in racing as your first years, and I wonder if you could give a quick synopsis of what it was like when you first started trying to put partnerships together in horse racing.
Cot Campbell: Well, that’s an interesting question. It was not received with great excitement. I think racing, being a traditional sort of a sport, I think some of the old (inaudible) at stats with the idea of a partnership owning a race horse. There was no outward opposition to it, but neither did they embrace it.
I remember going to Kentucky to what was called A Day In Kentucky where new owners were invited to come, and I think the people that put it on were about to have a nervous breakdown for fear that somebody would ask me to say something. But the funny thing is, what I was doing was ideally suited to benefit the state of Kentucky. It was bringing new money into the game. It was bringing people into the game that would go on and do other things. You know, Jim Tafel, who won the Derby started with us. Tommy Valendro, who won at (inaudible) started with us. It just made a lot of sense, but at—at first it was not received with wild enthusiasm. But I think once the validity of the idea began to sink in, then everybody did embrace it. Lord knows half the horses, or more than half today, are owned by partnerships, and it’s been a boon to racing.
Carol Holden: I said there was some talk a while back that you were thinking of going into retirement. I was wondering if Palace Malice has changed that thought.
Cot Campbell: Well, there’s been talk about going into retirement for several years, and the truth is I adore what I do and I have greatly cut back. Last July we merged with Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, a fine outfit, and at that point, I sold my client base to them and agreed that I would do no more partnerships. We worked with Eclipse to introduce some of our original partners to their offerings, and that’s worked out nicely. When I made special arrangements with them in the spring for me to go buy three two-year-olds, just because I was dying to do it (inaudible). So I’m kind of (inaudible). It helped me not want to retire. But I’m not inclined in that direction, anyway. I want to do this ’til I drop.
Carol Holden: Well, I hope that’s a long time in the offing. I’m so glad Palace Malice has turned out better than Sam Huff
Jim Mulvihill: All right, Cot. Just to follow up on the question of whether he might run as a five-year-old, it’s a very interesting process and you mentioned, of course, that you would solicit the opinions of all the partners, but is the final decision—does that rest with you, or would it be a vote of the five partners?
Cot Campbell: I think it would be a vote of the five partners. They’re people that I’ve been associated with for decades, and I think we all think in the same way, and—but I can’t imagine coming into a contentious situation where we would work out the percentages. I think we would all move in the same direction, and I’m inclined to think most of them, maybe all of them, would sort of do what I thought was best. But I do want to emphasize we’re—there’s no firm decision about racing next year. We may or may not. We’re just going to do what is logically indicated in the fall when the—when all the precincts have been heard from.
Jim Mulvihill: Sure. So we got a little bit away from the actual race on Saturday. Maybe I can just ask you, one, what you hope will happen at the post draw tomorrow; and two, how you see this race unfolding and if you’ve had a chance to size up the competition at all.
Cot Campbell: Yes, I think we pretty well know it’ll be a field of nine, and I don’t think it’s a matter of life and death about the post position. Ideally I would want to get three, four, five, six. There’s a little bit of a short run into the first turn. I wouldn’t mind being in the middle of the gate. I think there’s not a lot of speed in them. Most of the horses seem to be stalkers or closers, and we have certain amount of versatility, I think. We could take all the running, or we could come from out of it. We’ve got a rider on him, Johnny Velazquez, knows him well, has worked him the last few times, has been riding him, and Lord knows he’s the man for the job.
Jim Mulvihill: If you did end up on the inside, we’ve found in the Met Mile that that isn’t necessarily a concern either.
Cot Campbell: Exactly. That scared us to death in the Met Mile, and Johnny did a wonderful job of, you know, kind of getting him out of—getting him into contention. Then, of course, at the top of the stretch did have to wait for a seam (ph) to open and when it opened, he asked him a question and he received the answer, I’m happy to say.
Jim Mulvihill: Terrific. Well, Cot, we really appreciate your time today, and as the last questioner mentioned, thanks for everything you do for the industry and we wish you luck on Saturday.
Cot Campbell: That’s great of you and I’ve enjoyed the session. Thanks for having me.
Jim Mulvihill: it’s Jim Mulvihill. How are you doing?
Al Stall: Hi, Jim. Good.
Jim Mulvihill: Hey, thanks for joining us. I’m going to give you a quick intro here and then we’ll get to the questions.
Al Stall, just like our last guest, Cot Campbell, he was born in New Orleans. He worked on the backside growing up and throughout college for trainers including Jack Van Berg and Frank Brothers. After a stint in the oil industry, he went back to the track in his mid-20s, eventually opening his own stable in 1991. Since then he has more than 1,300 career wins, including great ones with Joyeaux Danseur, J.B.’s Thunder, and, of course, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and champion older male, Blame. Stall also trained the all-time leading Louisiana-bred earnings leader, Star Guitar. He’s twice been the leading trainer at Fair Grounds and is a member of that track’s Hall of Fame. In Saturday’s Whitney, he’ll saddle four-year-old Departing, who was third last time out in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. Al, thanks again for being on with us.
Al Stall: Thank you. My pleasure.
Jim Mulvihill: So, let’s talk about the Foster. That was a huge effort, especially considering it was only Departing’s second start off of a seven-month layoff. Is it safe to say that there’s room for a step forward off that?
Al Stall: Well, that was the game plan. I agree with you. I thought it was a huge effort. He’d only had a one turn mile race in eight-and-a-half months. He made lead there in between calls in the stretch and actually looked like he might go on with it, but he just didn’t. So I’m assuming he got a little heavy, came out of the race really, really well, and he’s trained every bit as good as he’s ever trained in his life up here in Saratoga.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, let’s talk about that. I mean, he had a nice work on Saturday, but actually I’m even more interested in the one two back. You know, he had a strong bullet work two back, which is similar to the pattern going into the Foster. What did you see in that move July 18th, two back?
Al Stall: Yes, that was his strong work for the race. It was just a typical work of his. He just laid off another horse, and to give you a direct quote from Robby Albarado, he said the 16 pole “the hair was standing up on the back of his neck” he was traveling so well and he was feeling so excited about the work. He just—you know, visually he’s just such in-hand and just traveling so much on his own, yet he’s going down there in a minute and just going down horse—like the horse is tied to a post. So it was very, very exciting and we had a nice blowout the other day so we feel like we’re really on track for a good effort.
Jim Mulvihill: Terrific. Well, let’s talk about this campaign. I mean, Departing is bred and owned by Claiborne and Adele Dilschneider, and this campaign started with a late spring comeback race, then the Stephen Foster, and now on to the Whitney. This is a plan that sounds familiar and has worked well for you before, no?
Al Stall: Yes, well it’s just—this is a different type of horse. He’s certainly not Blame. He’s going to have to earn everything he gets. So we’re not thinking anything past this race Saturday and hopefully he can, you know, move forward in a big race and he doesn’t go down the—through the season. But we’re just worried about Saturday and play off that.
Jim Mulvihill: All that time off that he had from three to four I understand he didn’t have any physical issues. This was just a matter of giving him time before you kick off this campaign.
Al Stall: Right, we just sent him to Claiborne Farm and he just was a horse for about 75, 80 days and (inaudible) Fair Grounds just—the horse had been completely let down and we started from scratch with him and he’s just gradually gotten back to himself on a day-to-day basis and we feel like he’ll be 100%-plus on
Danny Brewer: Please elaborate a little bit more on the Foster on the stretch run there. How—what were you thinking when he turned for home and man, he struck the lead, and then talk about how he fought through it through the wire.
Al Stall: Well, he just—if you think about who he was running against, the horse in front of him was Moonshine Mullin, who I think had run about nine races in a row. He’d run at Oaklawn about five times, and he’d run now in Sheba. He was just a horse who was really doing well and super fit. We got a head in front of him and we just didn’t quite go on, and chasing us from behind was Will Take Charge, who’s had a very busy campaign, the three-year-old champion. So he was sandwiched between two hardcore, super fit, sharp race horses, and we felt like we were just coming up to our peak. So it stood to reason that he maybe backed off just a little bit in the last 110 yards.
Danny Brewer: Now, as far as his competitive nature, when he takes time off just to be a horse and then he comes back to the track, do you have any problems with him as far as getting him back into that competitive mode, or is that something he’s just got inside of him?
Al Stall: No, he’s—it’s in his blood. I remember his first work at the Fair Grounds. His first gallops at the Fair Ground, when he gets to the head of the lane or on the quarter pole he switches to his right and he just wants to kind of take off down the stretch. After the second or third gallop, after a little bit of jogging, he did the exact same thing. The rider said he’s just like he was before he left. So we were happy to see that, because a horse does sometimes get a little soft on you and they drift away mentally sometimes when you give them time away from the track. But that’s positively not the case with him.
Danny Brewer: How do you think the Whitney sets up for him to be successful, or do you feel like you’ve got enough versatility that he just needs to run his race?
Al Stall: Yes, I think, you want a speed horse. I’m assuming someone else might be out there with him, depending on the draw and who goes in there. But I think with our freshness and how he did in that last race, if we leave there pretty sharp, and I imagine we’ll lay close to Moreno or if he goes too fast, we can back off a little bit. But we should be in the first wave.
Tom Pedulla: Yes, Al, could I just ask you to sort of expand a little bit on the thinking that goes into such a prolonged layoff? Was he showing you signs that he needed to get away, or what is the thinking?
Al Stall: Well yes, the race in Oklahoma clearly wasn’t his A race and we just felt like he was telling us he wanted a little breather. He’s a gelding who’s—doesn’t carry just a ton of conditioning, even though he’s gotten a lot more as a four-year-old than he did as a three-year-old. So it just made sense because those three-year-old races were over, just to get him away from the track and focus in on the second half of 2014. I guess really the main focus would have been the third race back, which is the Whitney, and we’re fortunate enough to be one day away from the entry box from getting there. So that itself is a tribute to the horse and my crew.
Tom Pedulla: If I can follow up with something else, is there any comparison to be made between this horse and Blame?
Al Stall: No, not really. Not really. We knew Blame was the goods. We thought he was a great one horse and proving that in the Foster. No, we knew he’d take us a long, long way throughout the year, and he ended up taking us all the way to the promised land. But this horse might be able to; we’re not sure. With Blame we kind of knew we had something. This horse sure works awful well and this race is going to be the acid test of his life. So we’ll find out what we have and what direction he’s going after it.
Tom Pedulla: Just lastly from me, is the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the radar with this horse, and do you know how you’d ideally try to get there?
Al Stall: Yes, he’d have to be very comparative or win the Whitney, and from there it’s fairly simple, you know, there’s races at Belmont—or the race at Belmont and the Woodward at the end of this meet. So, once you get to this point, the race is laid out fairly straightforward. So—but he positively has to earn his way into those kind of races.
Jim Mulvihill: Al, before we let you go, I’m wondering if you can just give us an update on Central Banker. Is he—he’s got to be getting close to a start-up at Saratoga.
Al Stall: He had a breeze this Saturday, his first breeze since Belmont spring championship. We were (inaudible) him for—we’re going to point him for the Forego at the end of the meet, so he’s just going to train for the next month, and I guess it’s August 30th, I believe it the Forego. So that’s our tentative game plan.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, Al, thanks for taking a few minutes with us today and we wish you luck on Saturday in the Whitney.
Al Stall: Thank you, Jim.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, that was Al Stall, Jr., trainer of Departing. He’s going to tackle Palace Malice and several other top older horses in the Whitney on Saturday.