While Dogwood Stable is best known for top-flight flat horses such as multiple Grade 1 and classic winner Palace Malice, Dogwood founder Cot Campbell has a long and fruitful association with American jump racing.
He was involved with the Atlanta Steeplechase before moving Dogwood to Aiken, S.C., and he raced 1987 Eclipse Award-winning steeplechase horse Inlander. Dogwood’s Street Fight finished second last month in Aiken Spring Steeplechase’s Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3).
Campbell brought his experience and expertise to the inaugural Owner Symposium and Steeplechase Sale on Sunday at Shawan Downs in Hunt Valley, Md. Appearing with him was Maryland-based owner Michael Wharton, and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard spoke to more than 160 attendees by satellite hookup from Keeneland Race Course, where he had a horse running that afternoon.
Created by the National Steeplechase Association’s Promotion and Growth Task Force, the symposium and sale were sponsored by the National Steeplechase Foundation and Cockeysville, Md.-based Valley Motors. The attendees included current owners, former owners, trainers, jockeys, and several prospective owners.
Campbell extolled the steeplechase experience for new owners. “It’s wonderful that people in steeplechasing are so welcoming,” he said. “I am a steeplechase devotee, and if any of you are entertaining the idea of purchasing a horse, I urge you to do it.”
Wharton, an Annapolis-based attorney, has one horse, Grinding Speed, whom the owner described as “a horse of a lifetime.” As part of his presentation, Wharton included four races, including victories in the 2013 Virginia Gold Cup and last year’s International Gold Cup, in which he was shut off in the race’s late stages before rushing from last to first and an impressive victory.
“I prepared this presentation in the middle of last week, and we didn’t know how he would run in the My Lady’s Manor [on Saturday],” he said. “I’m very happy to report … ” And, with that, Wharton pulled out the trophy for Grinding Speed’s 1 1/2-length victory in the opening leg of Maryland’s timber triple crown.
Wharton has had a long association with trainer Alicia Murphy, and he said the key to any owner-trainer relationship is honest communication. “I talk to Alicia several times a week,” he said. “I’m involved in race selection and jockey selection.”
Jockey selection has not been an issue because Mark Beecher has been Grinding Speed’s regular rider since 2012. “Mark has so much confidence in this horse,” Wharton said. “I don’t have the worry of working with different jockeys with this horse.”
The Owner Symposium and Steeplechase Sale offered a unique combination of learning, watching, and buying. After the symposium session, several sale horses schooled over the Shawan course while a lunch buffet was served.
In the sale itself, a 49% lease of Sheppard’s stakes winner Barnstorming for the 2015 season went for $30,000 to agent Michael Finney, who bid for a new partnership composed of Sherry Fenwick, Mary Charlotte Parr, Pedie Killebrew, and new owner Ben Lucas. Carolina Cup winner Diplomat failed to reach his reserve for a 49% interest.
Charles Fenwick Jr., a Promotion and Growth Task Force member who chaired the event, said his committee wanted to establish a relaxed environment for sharing ownership best practices and providing current and potential owners with opportunities to acquire new runners.
Fenwick, the Valley Motors president who trained Inlander for Dogwood, drew praise from both Campbell and Promotion and Growth Task Force Chair Bill Price. “This is a creative, admirable venture,” Campbell said. “I hope it bears fruit, and I think it will.”
Price agreed. “It was a great crowd, a very enthusiastic crowd,” he said. “I think we learned a lot to carry into next year, and I’m confident this will become an annual event.”