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To celebrate my birthday this year, I wanted to go to “Old Friends – A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds” (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/). It is one of my favorite places on the planet. Our appointment was for the 10:00 a.m. tour on August 23.
Having been born in Kentucky, and since we were in the thoroughbred breeding and racing business for a number of years, it always concerned me as to what happened to horses after their racing and/or breeding careers were over. This is a situation I am still uneasy about for most horses. One place I am completely at peace with is Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Our first trip to Old Friends was in 2009. My main focus at that time was to see Bonnie’s Poker – the dam (mother) of dual-Classics winner, Silver Charm. Bonnie belonged to Jack Dudley in Florida. Our first mare, Permanent Cut, had belonged to Mr. Dudley, and was purchased through the Ocala Breeders’ sale in January of 1989. She was carrying a Silver Buck foal. I always felt as though Bonnie and P.C. might have known each other.
Let me take a moment to HIGHLY recommend taking a tour of Old Friends! The moment you walk through the office door, you are greeted like a family member – one that people are happy to see. It’s as though you walk into a place where you are totally welcome. It’s hard to appropriately explain the feeling of complete belonging I feel once I arrive at Old Friends. People who have never been there before, or ever even been around horses, report the same feeling of tranquility. It’s almost as though the rush-around world of day-to-day temporarily ceases to exist.
Our group assembled and we headed out to see some of the amazing residents. Not all the horses at Old Friends are former champions – many are. Those who are here are the lucky ones. Someone – or some group – cared enough about these former racers to ensure that their lives after their careers are spent in complete contentment.
You can read all about the residents of Old Friends on their website. I’m going to limit this blog post to my personal memories of the horses we visited.
One of the first residents we met was Gulch, the 1988 Eclipse Award-winning Sprinter.
I had met Gulch many years ago just after he and a superior class of runners had been retired to stud at Lane’s End. Their stallion directory was an amazing “Who’s Who” of recently retired runners (as it still is today). New stallions at the time were Alysheba, Bet Twice, Steinlen, and Gulch. I had grown an immediate attachment to Gulch. Whereas Alysheba was regal, extraordinarily friendly, and spotless, Gulch was irascible and completely covered with mud. Something about his devil-may-care attitude completely captivated me. He’d already proven all he needed to on the track. He would go on to prove himself many times over as an amazingly successful sire.
I had not been back to Old Friends since Gulch was pensioned. I was delighted to see that he really hadn’t changed all that much. He looked fantastic! His flesh and muscle-tone were good. He had aged well. And true to form, he was still largely unimpressed by his visitors, and (as evidenced by his halter) a fan of mud.
Up next was Sarava. I had not previously met Sarava. I remembered him as a huge upset winner of the Belmont Stakes and knew that he was a son of Wild Again (one of the most beautiful stallions I’d ever seen), but had no idea that Sarava was such a beauty!
Bull Inthe Heather was his normal gregarious self. He stood, not so patiently awaiting his “due” attention and carrots. Bull is a son of the great, much-missed Ferdinand.
Another new-to-me resident was I’m Charismatic. This lucky gelding was sired by the beautiful Charismatic who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and was saved from certain destruction by the late Chris Antley in the Belmont Stakes. I’ll always remember Chris jumping off Charismatic, his dual-Classics winner, mid-stretch, and cradling his left, front leg and somehow keeping him calm until help could arrive. It is an enduring, indelible image.
It seems that I’m Charismatic got lucky, too. Even though he had the bloodlines, I’m Charismatic didn’t have the same trip through life as his sire. I’m Charismatic is a terrific example of the lot of most thoroughbred horses. They are bred to race. When they don’t show the talent to be top racers, they are dropped lower and lower in class. Unlike too many, who are sold to meat buyers from Canada or break down, I’m Charismatic had owners who cared enough to find him a retirement home. He must have been born under a lucky star, because he’s found Heaven on earth. I think he knows this, because he is a completely sweet and affectionate boy.
The last horse I’m going to tell you about in this installment is Ogygion. Ogygion is another stallion I met for the first time many, many years ago. The year was 1987, and this beautiful son of Damascus had just gone to stud at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky.
After many years in the breeding shed in Kentucky, Ogygion was bought by breeding interests in Japan. When his fertility started declining, Ogygion was sent back to the United States where he was welcomed to his forever home at Old Friends. This (now 31-year-old) boy still is an amazing presence. Like his sire, it seems as though Ogygion has inherited the longevity gene. I was amazed to see him saunter up to the fence to receive his visitors looking many, many years younger than his years.
In my next post, I will share photos and remembrances about many of the other wonderful horses that I was blessed to be able to spend time with at Old Friends in August. Among these are some of my very favorites – Special Ring, Danthebluegrassman, and the late (and much-loved) Sunshine Forever.
I also got to have a very special visit with Tinner’s Way.
Please take a few minutes to visit Old Friends’ website (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/). I can’t stress strongly enough the amazing work they do and the care they give. Keeping all these wonderful horses properly cared for is no easy feat. It’s also very, very expensive. While the folks at Old Friends usually don’t stress how much money it takes to care for these special creatures, I am more than willing to remind everyone who reads my blog how much it takes. If you are tempted to help, please do! I take no remuneration from my blog or from any source about whom I write. I, usually, don’t request readers to support any cause. I’m making an exception here because I’ve seen, first hand, the fine care given to the horses at Old Friends, and I also know how much it takes to feed, house, and care for just a few horses – let alone over 100.