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When I last left off, I had told you about several of the wonderful horses I got to be reacquainted with at “Old Friends – A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds” (www.oldfriendsequine.org ).
The next residents I want to talk about are Popcorn Deelights and Special Ring. These two geldings are buddies and put on quite a show. Although Old Friends was initially begun as a retirement home for thoroughbred stallions, Michael Blowen and the folks at Old Friends have, over the years, become the caregivers for geldings (like the four in this post) and mares, as well as their stallion contingent.
Popcorn Deelights? Name doesn’t ring a bell? No, not a Kentucky Derby winner or any race you might ever of heard of. Why is he here? I’ll just bet you either saw or heard about the movie, “Seabiscuit.” The Laura Hillenbrand best-seller became a terrific movie which told the story of a crooked-legged horse who ran into history and the hearts of millions of Americans during the Great Depression. His match race with the Triple Crown-winner, War Admiral (son of the great Man O’War) is the stuff of legend. Well, Popcorn Deelights played Seabiscuit in the movie! That was Pops breaking from the gate in various races, and that was him in the penultimate scene where Seabiscuit beats War Admiral.
Pop’s buddy, Special Ring, is quite a different story. This gorgeous son of top sire, Nureyev, won nearly a million dollars in his career. As with most Nureyevs, he excelled on the turf. Special Ring’s best distances were a mile to nine furlongs. Most of his earnings were in top California races including two winnings of the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar.
Another Nureyev that many remember (as both a runner and a sire) is Theatrical who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf at 1.5 miles in 1987. Why am I bringing up Theatrical (who passed away at age 30 in 2012)? Because I had the great pleasure to meet Theatrical when he first went to stud at Allen Paulson’s Brookside Farm in Versailles, Kentucky. I became thoroughly charmed by this large son of Nureyev. Why? Because one of the first things he did when I met him was to stick his tongue out to be pulled. Then he threw his top lip back and showed off his tattoo.
Any of you who have been to Old Friends and/or know Special Ring are re-reading that last sentence. It must be genetic! The first time I met Ring, the very first thing HE did was throw back that top lip and show off his tattoo! I was flabbergasted. I was told that this is his normal habit and that he does it for guests quite often. I couldn’t stop tears from welling up in my eyes. I was thrilled to see that, on our visit this past August, he is still showing off.
I guess you might be able to tell, Special Ring is a particular favorite of mine. Over the years, sons of Nureyev have been especially gregarious and friendly with me. I never met a Nureyev I didn’t like, and Ring is no exception. One more thing I find particularly charming about this grand gelding is his ability to shed his halter. I’ve never visited (nor seen too many photos) when he was wearing his halter. I don’t know if he has a special arrangement with Pops, but that halter somehow disappears – sometimes without a trace. Perhaps he’s a little bit Houdini.
The other two geldings I’m going to tell you about today are Flick and Danthebluegrassman. These two paddock buddies are both friendly and love visitors. I have to say that Dan seems to think he’s all that – and more (even though Flick won more money). Both of these geldings did most of their running on the west coast.
Flick was foaled in England and got his start there, but came to the US to do most of his racing and winning. He won several stakes races in California and placed in several more. This grand fellow raced successfully through age 10 when his owner decided that he had more than earned a happy retirement.
Flick is one of the lucky horses who had an owner that truly cared that her boy got the best care throughout his life. When time came for him to retire, she knew the best place for him was at Old Friends. That’s really lucky for all of us. Flick is one of the sweetest-tempered and long-suffering horses I’ve ever met. He seems to truly enjoy all of his visitors.
Danthebluegrassman! What a name! Dan was named after a friend of the owner. This character showed real ability as a youngster, and won several races. Dan actually was entered in the Kentucky Derby, but was scratched from the race the day before.
An amusing story was told about the friend who was the namesake of Danthebluegrassman. Apparently, Dan’s owner had made arrangements for the human Dan to come to Louisville for the Derby and had made all kinds of arrangements for a special party and room at Churchill in honor of his friend. Well, I guess none of that mattered because the human Dan sold his tickets and never showed. Ironic as Dan the horse didn’t make it to the starting gate either.
I tell this story because, after getting the opportunity to spend some time with Danthebluegrassman, that kind of story fits with his personality. He’s a showman! He loves the attention of the humans who come to visit. He’s quite a character. He loves to eat the carrots offered, but I think he enjoys the attention even more.
Dan is a great-looking horse. His story is one of the all too common, riches-to-rags stories in racing. This former entrant in the Kentucky Derby ended up in the claiming ranks. A couple of gentlemen decided that Dan had done enough and hated to see this former star racing at that level. They made arrangements for Dan to come to Old Friends.
All the horses at Old Friends have terrific stories. No two are the same. Again, I highly recommend that you visit Old Friends’ website. Even better, make plans to visit them in Georgetown, Kentucky. I’m absolutely certain that you, too, will meet a favorite or two – or three. When you DO find your favorite(s) (notice I said “when” not “if”), Old Friends makes it possible for us to sponsor them for a year. For a donation of $100, sponsors get a gorgeous 8 by 10 inch glossy photo and a certificate. Better than that, you get the knowledge that you are helping Old Friends provide the unparalleled care they are renowned for.
Up Next: Old Friends at Old Friends – The Superstars