Chasing a Dream: Runaway Wildcat – How It Began

Chasing a Dream: Runaway Wildcat – How It Began

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Runaway Wildcat – The Dream Who Came True

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Anyone who has known me or followed my blog for a while knows that horses have always been an extremely important part of my life. I’ve often said that when one is born in Kentucky, the very first inoculation is one which ensures love of horses and bourbon. The love of horses kicked in very early with me, and some of my earliest memories are of horses – most specifically, thoroughbreds.

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Me with Alysheba – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989

Without completely rehashing earlier blogs, Jim and I spent a few years in the thoroughbred breeding and racing business. While we loved the horses and everything about being around them, the business end was not kind to us. As I’ve often said, “If you want to make a small fortune in horse racing, start with a big one.” Let’s just say, it didn’t end well.

One of the brightest spots about loving horses is that you can meet some of the most wonderful people on the planet. (Yes, the flip-side is true, too, but we will focus on the good.) One of the best people I’ve ever known I met many, many years ago through the early days of computer networking – on Prodigy. My dear friend, Peggie, and her family became extended family of mine. We talked nearly every day on the telephone. She lived in the heart of horse country, near Lexington, Kentucky. Her love of horses and racing and mine dovetailed forging an amazing bond. She went through the many ups and downs of the horse business with us. She exulted with us over wins and cried with us over tragedies.

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Keeneland Inside Sales Pavillion – From Keeneland.com

In September of 2009, I got a call from my friend. She’d been battling cancer and had been quite sick, so it was something of a surprise to hear from her. She said she’d gone to Keeneland to go to the yearling sales hoping it would lift her spirits. I thought that sounded just like her. Go see horses (especially young ones) = feel better. She was actually excited about one she saw there. He was from Michigan! (We had moved to Michigan in 2003, and had been out of the horse business for many years prior to that.) The thing about this colt was that he had a nice pedigree – especially considering that racing in Michigan had become all but non-existent (and, sadly, still is).

She said he was so incredibly pretty, well-built, and kind. Her big hook was that he had three Triple Crown Champions in his pedigree. Citation, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat (THAT almost got me), along with a couple of descendants of Northern Dancer – the preeminent progenitor of thoroughbreds in the current era, all figured prominently in his pedigree.

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Didn’t I want to reconsider having horses? Didn’t I want her to buy him for me? I was laughing because my never-give-up friend was so excited about something. I assured her that owning a racehorse (especially starting with a baby) was just not in the cards. I did promise her, though, that I would keep track of him to the best of my ability. I wrote down his hip number (that’s how they catalog horses in the sale), his pedigree, who had bred him, and followed his sale (for $10,000 to a gentleman from California).

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Hip Number Example (NOT Runaway Wildcat)

In 2010, a 2-year-old horse named Runaway Wildcat started showing up as readying to race in California. Sure enough, it was the colt from the sale. Everything matched.

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Bourbon School

Bourbon School

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Being a Kentucky-bred, it’s only natural that I would have an affinity to two things – horses (and those of you who have read my blog over the years know that this is true of me) and bourbon. I’ve said before that I suspect that the first inoculation given at birth in Kentucky involves the development of love for horses and bourbon. While it seems that the love of the equine was immediate, the appreciation of bourbon took some time to acquire.

My heritage (as I have recently learned) is Scottish, and Scotch whiskey was the first brown liquor I developed a taste for. Part of my college education was in London, England where I learned to drink Scotch. It was an integral part of my education.

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It wasn’t until I was in my very early thirties that I decided it was time to learn more about bourbon. I was so incredibly lucky that my first foray into bourbon was on a recently-introduced, single-barrel bourbon called Blanton’s. Why was I drawn to this particular bourbon? Take a look at the bottle. Seriously! It was the horse and jockey.

Since both my husband and I have ties to Kentucky, we became very interested in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. For those who haven’t previously heard of it, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a program of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to promote the bourbon industry in Kentucky. (More about the Bourbon Trail – but keep it brief as it will be in a later post.)

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In early April, Woodford Reserve in Versailles, Kentucky held its “Bourbon Academy.”

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The Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby

Master distiller, Chris Morris, was the professor and there were roughly 30 eager pupils.

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Master Distiller Chris Morris

First, we learned a little about the history of Woodford Reserve. It was originally known as Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, but they began distilling whiskey in 1780 on the banks of a glorious stream. The water is so clear and so pure due to the limestone, it was a natural location to start distilling. The distillery building was erected on site in 1838. It is actually the oldest of all the distilleries in the area, although it was closed for quite a while. Brown-Forman bought the property in 1993 and refurbished it to bring it back into operation. The Woodford Reserve brand was introduced to the market in 1996.

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THIS is the water that makes Kentucky Bourbon GREAT!

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Oldest Building on Woodford grounds – with the barrel delivery system

We started out, by learning about charring the barrels. The amount of char on the inside of new, American white oak barrels is critical to the taste and quality of the bourbon which comes out. We did our own “char” by building a fire inside a barrel. It was a little too windy, but the visual was sufficient to give a greater understanding of how many different levels there are in making a really top-notch bourbon.

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Young Mash – Tastes like Breakfast Cereal

We got to stick our fingers into the developing sour mash. It was amazing the difference in the tastes between the new mash (like a bland breakfast cereal) and the final vat (seriously getting sour and looking on top like someone’s pizza). We saw the gorgeous copper stills and learned about how the process of successive distillations makes the clearest, highest quality distillate. Notice, I didn’t call it bourbon yet. At the point where it comes out of the still, it is just alcohol – or “white dog.” It’s the aging in the oak barrels that turns pure alcohol into bourbon and gives it all those marvelous flavor notes.

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Aged Mash (almost ready for distillation)

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One of Woodford Reserve’s Famous Copper Stills

We learned all about the flavor wheel in an exercise, led by resident chef, Ouita Michel (a James Beard Award nominee). Who knew there were so many different flavors to discern in bourbon? We got to taste different nibbles of food paired with bourbon to see how the flavors changed. I had never thought about considering pairing food with bourbon and how different bourbons would go better with certain food items, but I sure learned a thing or two about that. I’m absolutely rethinking Thanksgiving dinner pairings. I think a good bourbon would pair beautifully with all the flavors in turkey and dressing. I absolutely know that bourbon and pecan pie are made for each other.

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The Woodford Reserve Flavor Wheel (Who knew?)

There was also an exercise about being able to recognize different scents in bourbon as well as taste. It was really nose-opening to smell a cotton ball in a glass with different esters on it and to try and discern what the smell was. One of the funniest responses was “my grandmother’s couch.”

We had an outstanding lunch and got to sample several different bourbons and Woodford’s bottled version of “white dog.” All of the bourbons were from Brown and Foreman’s stable of bourbons. Jim and I both favored Woodford’s Double Oaked – a relative newcomer to their offerings.

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All Related – Yet SO Different

Upon graduation, we each got our own bottles of Woodford’s flagship Reserve. These were very special bottles as they have our names and graduation dates etched right into the bottles. What a nice touch!

If you ever consider taking the one-day course, I would emphatically tell you to go for it.

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Such a Beautiful Place to Go to Class

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Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

Getting “Social” in Lexington

Getting “Social” in Lexington

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Most of y’all know that I’m a born Kentuckian. I like to say that I was inoculated at birth with a love of horses and bourbon. I think that may be a requisite vaccination for all newborns in the Commonwealth, at least it appears that way. All I can tell you is that I have loved horses as long as I can remember, and acquiring a taste for brown, corn liquor came mighty easy.

Every year for my birthday, if at all possible, I sweet-talk my dear husband into a trip to the Bluegrass. That’s not a difficult task as he spent many, many summers in the state visiting his grandmother. Some of his happiest times were spent in my birth-state.

Earlier this year, we had visited and completed the Bourbon Trail (which I will write about in an upcoming blog), so this time it was totally about visiting horses, eating and drinking excellent food and bourbon, and visiting Wallins Creek (where Jim spent his summers) to take photos and gather information for his upcoming model train layout. (Can you see that there will be many different posts on all kinds of subjects in the offing?)

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Sunset in the Bluegrass

Our base of operations was Lexington. I never tire of Lexington. The area around Lexington is some of the most beautiful country anywhere in the world. Yes, I may be more than a bit biased, but I have been lucky to travel quite a bit and this is where I choose to come as often as humanly possible. Lexington is surrounded by farms housing the finest thoroughbred horses in the world and the very best distilleries are within a very short drive.

We arrived on my birthday, so we had made dinner reservations at Tonys of Lexington. We had lots of time before our reservation, so we wanted to enjoy a bourbon (or two) in a local bourbon bar. We’d heard about Bluegrass Tavern (with their 450 bourbons), and decided that we’d join the locals and see what 450 different bourbons even looked like. We arrived around 4:30 p.m., but they were inexplicably closed. Hmmm! What to do? Then we turned around and found Parlay Social on the corner right behind us. We decided to go in and cool off and see if they could fill the bourbon bill. (August is more than a little warm in Kentucky.)

“Social” is a great name for this place. We were greeted and made to feel right at home by the cutest bartender. Her name is Kristin, and she’s as nice, social, and informative as she is sweet. We had landed in just the exact right place to try out some bourbons that are, quite frankly, impossible to get in Michigan bars or restaurants.

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Kristin – Bartender Extraordinaire – Parlay Social (Check the bottle in foreground!)

Kristin handed us a list of all the options available and it just about made my head swim. There weren’t 450 listed, but there were enough fine options that we didn’t feel as though we missed a thing. They had options to try one or two ounces of some of the best and most sought-after bourbons in the world. Prices (as you can see) were anywhere from $5 all the way up to $112 for one single ounce of liquor. Extravagant? Darn tootin’! It was my birthday, though, so we decided to taste some of them. We shared, so each ounce became half-ounces each. (Wouldn’t want y’all to think we overdid it or anything!)

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Side #1 – Parlay Social Bourbon List

Our favorites were Eagle Rare 17-year and Pappy Van Winkle 15-year. I have to say, that if I had to choose one bourbon to drink (and cost was no factor) it would be the Pappy 15-year. It was, without a doubt, the best, most palatable, smoothest sipping bourbon I’ve ever had. Lord knows if the 20- and 23-year are any better, because we sure don’t. One day, I plan to save up so I can find out; but the leap between the 10-year (Old RIP Van Winkle) and the 15-year (Pappy Van Winkle) was like jumping to light speed in the Millennium Falcon.

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Side #2 – Parlay Social Bourbon List

As we were tasting some of these beautiful, brown liquors, the shift manager, Oliver, came out to see how we were doing. Again, we were made to feel right at home. Both he and Kristin gave us some suggestions as to places to visit in Lexington. When we told them we had reservations at Tonys, they both nodded and told us we would really enjoy our meals. In a later post, I’ll tell you more about Tonys and the wonderful dinner we enjoyed.

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Oliver – Shift Manager at Parlay Social

We actually went back to Parlay Social a couple of afternoons later to tell them what a wonderful meal we’d had, and to try out a couple more bourbons. It was like visiting with old friends. Funny, I know that they get all kinds of visitors and regulars on a daily basis, but we were remembered. That goes a very long way in making one feel welcome.

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Back bar at Parlay Social – Check out just SOME of the Bourbons

It’s a given that we will be back to Lexington in the very near future. It’s also a given that we will be visiting Parlay Social again, too.

 

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Gulch: A True Champion

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One of the problems with loving horses is that they are all mortal. Even the ones whose names will live on forever – like Secretariat and Man O’War – have gone to the great, green fields in Heaven. Another of the greats has just joined them.

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Gulch at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch was a true champion. He was a tough competitor who raced against the best of his generation (which was one of the best group of horses in history). I was lucky enough to see his gritty win in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That was the year he won the Eclipse Award (the highest award given to a horse) as Champion Sprinter. It was also his last year to race before going to stud at Lane’s End Farm (where he would stand his entire career). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

 

Gulch was foaled (born) April 16, 1984. He was the son of perennial, number one sire, Mr. Prospector. His dam (mother) was Jameela.

 

Mr. Prospector is well known for his amazing history for siring top class runners (i.e., Fusaichi Pegasus, Forty Niner, and Seeking the Gold, etc.). His continuing sire line (through sons such as Fappiano, Forty Niner, Kingmambo, Smart Strike, and, of course, Gulch) is one of the most enduring and successful in the history of thoroughbred breeding. His prowess at siring top-notch broodmares is also well documented by being the top broodmare sire for many years.

 

Jameela was, by far the best runner her female family had produced for generations, and was also the best runner her sire ever had. The hard-knocking mare competed for four years and compiled a race record of 58 starts, 27 wins, 15 seconds, and 6 thirds for a whopping earnings of $1,038,714. In today’s racing, $1-million in earnings is still an amazing achievement. Considering that Jameela ran from 1979 through 1982, her total earnings are even more compelling.

 

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Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch ran from 1986 through 1988. While best known as a classy sprinter, Gulch actually came in second in the 1987 Belmont Stakes. The Belmont is 1-1/2 miles, run on a sandy surface, and is the longest distance of any of the Triple Crown races. Gulch competed successfully at distances from 5 furlongs (a furlong is 1/8 mile) to 12 furlongs. This is exceedingly rare in racing in this day and age. Most horses show an affinity for a certain distance and are run almost exclusively in that distance or very close. Gulch showed great promise right from the start when he won several of the top races for 2-year-olds in 1986 (including the Hopeful Stakes, the Futurity Stakes, and the Saratoga Special Stakes.)

 

As a three-year-old, Gulch continued his winning ways. There were wins in the Wood Memorial, the Metropolitan Handicap (against older horses) and the Bay Shore Stakes. There were other great finishes besides the aforementioned second in the Belmont. He ran against all ages in the Woodward and the Whitney (both top American races) and finished second.

 

At four, he had his final, great year at the track with wins in the Metropolitan Handicap (for the second year), the Potrero Grande Handicap, the Carter Handicap and his tough win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. In addition, he had several seconds and thirds in the top races in the country. His final race record was 32 starts: 13 wins, 8 seconds, and 4 thirds for total earnings of $3,015,521. Again, remember this was the 1980s when purses were much less than they are today. He was appropriately named Champion Sprinter of 1988.

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A Shiny, Clean Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

In 1988, we were attending our first Breeders’ at Churchill Downs. Jim and I had recently gotten into the racing business by buying a part interest in a 2-year-old colt in Georgia. Georgia (sadly) does not have legal horse racing (an aside – some very bright lights in the thoroughbred industry are still working on rectifying that). The plan was to race this colt in Alabama and/or Florida. We also had intentions of purchasing our own broodmare to get into breeding our own racehorses. Part of that process took us to Kentucky for a sale and to go to the Breeders’ Cup races. My hero, Alysheba, was competing for the last time of his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; and the amazing, Personal Ensign was running in her final race in the Distaff. In my opinion, that year was the penultimate Breeders’ Cup.

 

 

I knew about Gulch. I had always loved his name considering his sire was Mr. Prospector. He had been trained by two great trainers in Leroy Jolley and D. Wayne Lukas. I loved his gritty determination and was anxious to see him get his due by winning the Sprint. An old favorite, Precisionist, was trying to win his second Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and one of my other favorites, Sunshine Forever was competing in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Now that I look back on that Breeders’ Cup, I’m struck that all of these favorites ended up at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky.

 

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Me with Alysheba – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989

The next time I saw Gulch was the following May at Lane’s End. Several top runners had been retired to stud at Lane’s End and I was anxious to meet them all. Notable among the group were Alysheba, Bet Twice (the horse who denied Alysheba’s Triple Crown) and Gulch. I knew that all of the stud fees would be far out of our reach. One never knows if lightning will strike, and our first mare (a half-sister to a very good horse who had run third in the Preakness Stakes) had foals that could become stakes winners. If that were the case, the scenario could change. Of course, chances were slim, but one thing for certain in the horse business – if you don’t dream, you don’t belong.

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Gulch – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989 (Does this look like a Champion?)

 

I had to laugh when they brought Gulch in. Alysheba was shiny and acting much the king of the hill and enjoying all the attention. Gulch, on the other hand, looked for all the world like a sullen little boy who had been pulled away from play. Indeed, he was covered with mud, was completely disheveled, and stood grudgingly in front of us. This definitely did not look like a champion. If you’d have seen him in a group, you’d never have looked twice. But, sure enough, in front of us was the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award winning Sprint Champion. That was the moment I decided I really loved that horse. He became a “real” horse. He just wanted to play in the mud.

 

As a stallion, Gulch was a success. He sired Thunder Gulch who won the Kentucky Derby and who also went on to become a successful sire. Other good offspring include Court Vision, Great Navigator, and fellow Old Friends retiree, Wallenda. He sired more than 70 stakes winners during his long career.

 

Several times in following years we visited Lane’s End. Each time, I’d make certain to look for Gulch. We got to see famous half-brothers A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. Lane’s End has been home to some of the best stallions in the 20th and 21st century. Still, Gulch was a favorite and I never tired of seeing him.

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My favorite photo of Gulch – Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

 

When I heard that Gulch had been pensioned to Old Friends in 2009, I was ecstatic. It’s been over 20 years since we were in the horse business, and our visits to stud farms pretty much ended when we left the business. With Gulch going to Old Friends I was happy for several reasons. The first was that I knew he would continue to get the best of care. Second, other fans would get to meet this wonderful horse. The most selfish reason was that I would get to visit him again.

 

The last visit I had to Old Friends was to celebrate a landmark birthday in 2013. We planned our whole trip around making certain that we would be able to be at Old Friends on my birthday. That’s all I wanted for my birthday – to be able to see all the horses that truly were “old friends” of mine.

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My last photo of Gulch. He’d been in the mud again (his left side was caked). A happy horse

 

When I saw Gulch, I had to laugh. Once again, he’d been in the mud. He was wearing a fly mask as the August weather and lots of rain had made for a bumper crop of biting flies. Gulch was still the same horse I’d come to know. He was friendly, but still I had to feel that he’d rather be back out rolling in the mud. So, somehow, it seems fitting that my final visit with Gulch was similar to the first.

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Rick Capone’s Wonderful Photo of Gulch at Old Friends – Fields of Green

 

Gulch was humanely euthanized on Sunday, January 17, 2016. The gallant, old man lived to the ripe old age of 32 (which is very rare in horses). Old Friends took the step to put him down because cancer was starting to overtake Gulch and he deserved to be pain free and go quietly to sleep.

 

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Gulch – The Look of Pure Joy (How I’d Want His Hereafter to Be) – Photo by Rick Capone

 

One more beloved champion is racing through the never-ending fields of green (and, in Gulch’s case I hope an always-sloppy, mud hole).

 

 

Remember, I really love to hear your comments. Just click on the “Leave a Reply” link and let me know what you think. Also, let me know if there’s something you’d like to hear more about.

Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

April 28, 2015

I’m Reblogging this terrific post from Old Friends. It’s time for the Kentucky Derby. Without a doubt, my favorite winner (other than Secretariat – and y’all know how I feel about him) was Silver Charm. He had the same sire as our Untarnished, and he was born and raised on the farm from whom we bought Untarnished’s mom, Permanent Cut. I got to know Bonnie’s Poker (Silver Charm’s mom) while she lived at Old Friends. I can’t wait to go and visit him – and all the other wonderful horses at Old Friends later this spring or early summer.

In the meantime, I’m trying to heal from foot surgery (in case you were wondering why I hadn’t been around for a while). I promise to start blogging again in the very near future.

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Hall-of-Famers Bob Baffert and Silver Charm share a playful moment. Hall-of-Famers Silver Charm and his trainer, Bob Baffert, share a playful moment. Photo by Tim W.

…Speaking of wonderful moments shared between our residents and their connections, here’s one that happened today. I wish I could describe the reminiscing shared by 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm and his trainer Bob Baffert when Bob, Jill and Bode Baffert took time out from their busy pre-Derby schedules to visit Old Friends.

A Silver Charm brings good racing luck, they say... Are the two veteran Derby winners exchanging perspectives on how Saturday’s race will play out? Photo by Tim W.

Or the welcome Game On Dude gave them, especially Jill–smart horses like the Dude know who loves them the very best of all.

The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other's company. Photo by Tim W. The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert, Bob Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other’s company. Photo by Tim W.

I wish I could describe the memorable time they all had being together again…

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March 17, 2015 – Farewell Ogygian

In less than 2 weeks the world has lost two of the greatest thoroughbreds of our times. I first met Ogygian when he went to stud in Kentucky at Claiborne Farm. It doesn’t seem possible that so much time has passed. He lived to be a few days shy of 32 years old. As I said in my response to Old Friends, “He was made by Damascus and embodied all the strength and beauty of the steel of the same name. Ogygian, you lived up to your name and your birthright. God graced us with your presence for 32 years. His loan was called and we must say farewell. Never good-bye.”

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Ogygian. March 17, 1983 - March 14, 2015 Ogygian. March 17, 1983 – March 14, 2015

I can’t do this. Can’t capture such a great spirit in mere words. Or describe the emptiness of his empty paddock. I just want to say that in his last hours he was with people he knew and trusted, on a mild night under a starry sky. He ended his life peacefully. We caught the colic symptoms early, Dr. Waldridge got there soon with pain relief and gave heroically of his efforts and expertise. Everything that could be humanely done to try and save Ogygian was done, and Ogygian was strong and loving through it all. My gratitude to Michael is beyond bounds. He made the right decision not to opt for radical hospital treatment that had little chance of working, to let Ogygian go peacefully in the paddock that had been his kingdom for so many years. To make all the…

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March 4, 2015 – Farewell Creator!

Creator was so amazing. Words cannot express the depth of his character. I am sharing Old Friends’ (bless you, Beth) obituary as the photos, story, and links need to be shared. I have added a few of my own photos of Creator. Run free, beautiful boy! I’m sure that Sunshine was waiting for you to show you to the evergreen pastures.

Creator in August 2013

Creator in August 2013

Creator  Summer 2013

Creator
Summer 2013

The Great Creator Old Friends - August 2013

The Great Creator
Old Friends – August 2013

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For three days I’ve waited for the words for a fitting tribute to Creator. They haven’t come. No words can begin to describe him, or the loss of him.

Creator, Feb. 2010, by Laura Battles. Creator, Feb. 2010, by Laura Battles.

Few who saw Creator at Old Friends saw him race, but in the summer of 1990 he was the best horse running in Europe, a superlative athlete worthy of his great lineage: Nasrullah, Never Bend, Mill Reef. He was already a character. Later, one of his grooms in trainer André Fabre’s barn would tell Michael how they called Creator “Houdini” because no matter how meticulously they’d fasten on his blanket, the next time they checked on him they’d find the blanket on the stall floor. Creator’s easy victory over In the Wings in the Prix Ganay was especially celebrated. To this day, Creator is remembered in Great Britain. Here is his obituary in England’s Racing…

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