March 2019 Members of the Month: Gil & Marilyn Campbell
Gil and Marilyn Campbell are the TOBA March Members of the Month.
In nearly forty years in the business, Gil and Marilyn Campbell have built a formidable Thoroughbred operation. Centering their equine pursuits at their Stonehedge Farm South near Williston, Florida, the spouses have boosted the Sunshine State’s Thoroughbred presence in the industry.
Their current star is Well Defined, a homebred who annexed the February 9 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. This win revived Kentucky Derby (G1) dreams for the Campbells, first sparked after capturing last fall’s FTBOA Florida Sire In Reality Stakes. Marilyn Campbell noted, “We did go to the [Sentient Jet] Breeders’ Cup [Juvenile, (G1)] with him and were very disappointed in the results, but he does like to have things his own way and he had some issues coming out of the gate at the Breeders’ Cup. But after the Sam Davis, we’ve got hopes again.”
The Campbells split their time between Florida and Kingsborough, Massachusetts. Gil Campbell fondly recalls outings to Rockingham Park and Suffolk Downs in those tracks’ heyday. Marilyn added, “I think Gil’s dad brought him to the track when he was younger, but I didn’t really have any experience at the racetrack, and it’s something we got into together.”
They first enjoyed success when owning a percentage of stakes winner Shananie. “I think we were both animal lovers and then once we got a taste of racing, we were successful with Shananie,” Marilyn said, adding, “We both enjoyed the business and going to the racetrack and just fell in love with the industry.” Around the same time, they bought their first broodmare and soon decided to find property of their own.
Gil noted, “We were starting to expand and buy our own farm and looked in Kentucky, and then a gentleman we know very well in Florida said, ‘This farm is going to be for sale and it’s probably the best farm in Florida for growing a horse.’” That was Waldemar Farm; once owned by Howard Sams and managed by Joe King, the nursery bred champions Foolish Pleasure and What a Pleasure.
In the late 1980s, the Campbells purchased Waldemar, renaming it Stonehedge Farm South. Today, Joe King’s son Larry manages the farm, which covers 600 acres. The Campbells own about 200 horses, including 70 to 80 broodmares, 40 newly-turned two-year-olds, and 20 runners in training. “We probably have close to 15, 16 babies born already and we’re probably going to have about a total of 48, if everything goes right,” Marilyn said of the 2019 crop.
In 2011, Watch Me Go (by former Stonehedge stallion West Acre) briefly blazed the Triple Crown trail, taking the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) before finishing eighteenth in the Derby. “It was our first chance at going to the Kentucky Derby, so, even though we knew we weren’t going to win it, we went and enjoyed it,” Marilyn said. “It was something that’s on your bucket list.”
“I think Well Defined showed us a lot more than Watch Me Go did in his early career,” she said. Watch Me Go’s success came “very quickly,” Marilyn noted, adding that “with Well Defined, it’s a slower progress. You learn there are a lot of ups and downs in this business and you never know what’s going to happen.” Added Gil, “My fingers are crossed; my toes are crossed.”
Notable Campbell-breds include three-time grade 1 winner Marlin and multiple graded stakes winner Blazing Sword. Both were sons of Sword Dance, who stood at Stonehedge Farm South. Currently, the Campbells stand a son of Congrats called Cajun Breeze. A former FTBOA director, Gil is passionate about improving Florida racing and breeding. He said, “I’m still very active in it and I think probably one of the big things is bringing good pedigrees to breed in Florida and having them stay in Florida.” Marilyn concurred: “We try and improve our stock, to buy mares in Kentucky in foal to fashionable stallions, and then we may sell the offspring and keep the mare.”
They also bred and raced grade 2 winner Ivanavinalot, dam of Songbird. Marilyn said, “We raced her and she also was ready to go to the Breeders’ Cup in California and I think the day before we were ready to leave for California, she came up with some issues and we had to scratch her. Another disappointment, but we put her in foal to Mineshaft and in this business you have to sell once in a while to make some money. And we sold her [for $625,000, at the 2004 Keeneland November sale] and then they bred her to Medaglia d’Oro, [who] was the big one, with Songbird.” She added, “We were at the [2017 Keeneland November] sale when Songbird was sold [for $9.5 million, to Mandy Pope] and it brought tears to our eyes.”