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.”

Old Friends Blog

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

Old Friends Blog

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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Secretariat and Me

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The Incomparable Secretariat (photo taken at Claiborne Farm)

The Incomparable Secretariat
(photo taken at Claiborne Farm)

So, what’s this about Secretariat? THAT Secretariat? Yes, there was only one; and in 2013 racing celebrated the 40th anniversary of his amazing Triple Crown. Even if you don’t follow horse racing closely, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Super Horse of 1973 (and 1972)! Secretariat was a phenomenon. He was not undefeated in his career, but – in my mind – that only goes to prove that this was a flesh and blood athlete who, when he was at the top of his game, was the best that ever was. The 44th anniversary of his birth is rapidly approaching (March 30), so I wanted to make certain that my remembrance was posted before the celebration.

 

Secretariat's Amazing Leap at the Preakness 1973

Secretariat’s Amazing Leap at the Preakness 1973

There are those who say that Man O’War was better. I couldn’t say for certain. I don’t know that anyone truly can. Those who saw them both run couldn’t even agree. Let’s just put all that to bed and say that they both were bright, immensely talented, beautiful-to-look-at, beings who inspired legions with their ability to run. They were immediate celebrities who captured the attention and imaginations of generations. That’s a lot to say about one horse – let alone, two.

Secretariat also came into our lives at a time where the country desperately needed a hero. We had been through years of the tortuous and divisive war in Vietnam. On the heels of that, there was the Watergate scandal. To say that there were a great number of us (especially those of my age group) who were becoming increasingly disillusioned was putting it mildly. This was the early times of the “hippie” movement and counter-culture. Secretariat was a bright, shining beacon of truth and beauty. Even those who had never seen a horse race or had any previous interest in horses tuned into the innocence and power of the amazing, chestnut. Secretariat, in full flight, was almost a mythical beast. His stride (which later turned out to be the greatest measured) ate the ground. He was poetry in motion. It was a kind of beauty that almost everyone could appreciate.

Secretariat is so iconic that the greats have photographed him

Tony Leonard's Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

Tony Leonard’s Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

(this example is the famous photo of Secretariat at the Belmont by the late, great photographer, Tony Leonard),

Fred Stone's "Final Tribute" - Secretariat

Fred Stone’s “Final Tribute” – Secretariat

and painted him (this is Secretariat – Final Tribute by the incomparable, Fred Stone).

Much has been written about Secretariat the race horse. There have been terrific books (I especially like the one written by William Nack) and even a feature movie about him. This post is a more personal look at the great horse as I knew him.

My “relationship” with Secretariat came many years after his heroics on the track. As you may have learned from earlier posts, my husband and I were in the thoroughbred breeding and racing business for a number of years. My first visit to Secretariat, though, pre-dated that time in our lives, but not by much. Did meeting him have any bearing on our decision to go into the business of breeding and racing horses? Probably, but not directly.

 

My first encounter with the Great One:

We were living in Georgia, and took a road trip to visit family in Michigan. On the way back, we stopped first in Louisville, Kentucky. One of the pamphlets available at the Kentucky visitor’s center outlined different tour groups that were available to the general public to visit horse farms in the bluegrass. I have been “horse crazy” all my life. (Perhaps that’s a by-product of being born in Kentucky.) We called and requested a tour to Claiborne Farm where Secretariat held court. The tour company said that they would do their best, but that there were no guarantees. We told them where we’d be staying in Lexington and they said they would leave word as to whether or not they were able to book the tour.

When we arrived in Lexington, this message awaited us!

The Note

The Note

I have to say that I honestly don’t remember any of the details beginning at this point until we arrived at Claiborne. I’m sure I enjoyed the amazing scenery (beautiful tree-lined roads and the stacked-stone fences of Paris Pike), but my only thoughts were that I’d actually get to see the horse that I’d dreamt of for so many years.

I do know that I thought I would see Secretariat (or “Red” as I came to call him later) in his paddock and at a distance. Imagine my amazement when he was led out of his stall on a lead and brought in our direction. I’m sure I was breathing; but, at that moment, everything else was blocked out of my vision. Walking right up to me was the most amazing horse of all time.

My First Brush with Greatness

My First Brush with Greatness

Secretariat  - Oh, yes, that's me touching him

Secretariat – Oh, yes, that’s me touching him

As you can see from these photos, I got to actually “touch” him. I couldn’t be bothered to take the camera. I only wanted to stand next to him and spend all the time I could in his presence. Funny thing, the big guy knew he was being adored. I’m sure that he was used to being shown to people from the time he was a foal. His whole life had been documented by famous photographers and award-winning authors. He was totally happy being fussed over by his public. He was the consummate gentleman. From the moment I first met him, I knew I had to take every opportunity afforded me to visit.

Secretariat and Me (Yes, he was THAT easy to love)

Secretariat and Me
(Yes, he was THAT easy to love)

It was quite shortly after that visit that we entered the thoroughbred business. Jim and I made many trips to Lexington to evaluate potential mates for our mare, Permanent Cut. Each time, we would visit Claiborne to both see the stallions we might possibly purchase seasons to and to visit Red. We never failed to bring the requisite “starlight” mints. Each time we approached his stall door, I’d start to un-wrap a mint (I must mention that we always got permission first). Red sure knew that sound. He’d nicker and have his head out of the door before we could get there. After giving him the mint, he’d stand like a child’s pony to be rubbed and fussed over.

Secretariat Reaching for a Starlight Mint

Secretariat Looking for a Starlight Mint

The last time this scenario played out was when we were visiting just prior to the 1989 Kentucky Derby. We visited again in August, but were told that Red wasn’t feeling well and might not come to the door. We were also told that we shouldn’t offer him a mint. We walked to the stall door and looked in. Secretariat was standing in the back of his stall facing away. I called to him and he turned his head, but didn’t walk over. I could tell, then, that he wasn’t feeling well, but had no idea how badly he was doing.

Secretariat & Me (The Pretty One's in Front)

Secretariat & Me
(The Pretty One’s in Front)

On October 4, 1989, I was driving home from work in Atlanta. The radio started to report the death of Secretariat. I had to pull into the nearest parking lot. I sat there, at first in shock, then crying my eyes out and sobbing. It took quite a long time until I could compose myself long enough to drive home. Once home, I told Jim that I’d heard that Red was gone. It was on all the evening news stations. Even 16 years after his Triple Crown triumph, Secretariat was news. He was a legend in his own time.

Many terrific horses have come and gone since Secretariat. Some have caught the imagination of many; however, none have inspired such a multitude as Secretariat has. To this day, with the recent Disney movie, Red is captivating a whole new legion of fans – many whose parents weren’t even alive when Secretariat blazed into history. I’m just so very grateful that I was able to see this spectacular being, not only break all the records with his racing, but to get to know the horse, himself.

I doubt that there will ever be another.

 

Up Next: Funny Horse Stories

 

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Looking forward to “seeing” you here on Colmel’s Blog!

Old Friends at Old Friends – Part 1

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

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.

 

Bonnie's Poker (Looks Like She'd Enjoyed a Roll!)

Bonnie’s Poker
(Looks Like She’d Enjoyed a Roll!)
Old Friends – Spring 2009

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.

Gulch Lane's End - 1989

Gulch
Lane’s End – 1989

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.

Alysheba & Me Lane's End - 1989

Alysheba & Me
Lane’s End – 1989

 

Alysheba & Me Lane's End - 1989

Alysheba & Me
Lane’s End – 1989

Gulch Old Friends - August 2013

Gulch
Old Friends – August 2013

 

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.

Sarava

Sarava
Old Friends – August 2013

  

Sarava Old Friends - August 2013

Sarava
Old Friends – August 2013

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

Bull Inthe Heather
Old Friends – August 2013

 

Bull Gets a Carrot

Bull Gets a Carrot
Old Friends – August 2013

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.

I'm Charasmatic

I’m Charasmatic

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.

I'm Charismatic He Gets a Carrot Too

I’m Charismatic
He Gets a Carrot Too

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.

Ogygion Old Friends - August 2013

Ogygion
Old Friends – August 2013

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.

Ogygion Old Friends - August 2013

Ogygion
Old Friends – August 2013

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.

Would you like to subscribe to my blog? (Oh, yes, it’s free!) Hopefully, you have already clicked on the title and are now directly in my blog page. If you have not gotten to the blog page, click on the title of the Posting and it will take you to the blog. From there, click on “Follow.” I hope you will. You will be notified of each new posting. I also hope you will jump in and comment on my posts.

Looking forward to seeing you here on Colmel’s Blog!