Friday, December 12, 2008

Old Friends is a home for retired Thoroughbreds

Story and photos by Ashley Camblin
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Horse racing is a multi-million dollar industry that continues to grow and attract fans both nationally and internationally. Once thoroughbreds have finished their racing careers what happens to them? Where do these beautiful, retired horses end up?

Southwest of Georgetown on Paynes Depot Road, six miles from Midway, is a farm for retired race horses called Old Friends. It was started by Michael Blowen in 2003 as a retirement and rescue facility for pensioned thoroughbreds. After news broke in 2002 of the presumed slaughter of 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand, Blowen wanted to save at-risk horses.

“We knew such a death must never happen again,” Blowen says on the Web site for Old Friends. “And so the plan became to bring 'at risk' racehorses, those whose racing and breeding careers had come to an end, to Old Friends, provide them with the dignified retirement they deserve.”

Old Friends has 30 horses at the Dream Chase Farm. Old Friends is the only retirement and rescue facility that houses stallions, and there are 15 on the farm. Some stallions include Ferdinand son Bullintheheather, and Williamstown (left, with tour guide Charlie Brown), a son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.

The farm is also home to four mares and five geldings. The mare with a star-studded pedigree is Bonnie’s Poker, the dam of 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm. The most popular gelding is Popcorn Deelites (photo at top), who was one of the many horses used as Seabiscuit, in the movie "Seabiscuit." The scenes with Popcorn Deelites are all the starting gate scenes and the race with War Admiral.

Amanda Bennett came from Lexington to go on a tour of Old Friends. “I love horses and had a horse when I was growing up,” she said. “I really enjoyed seeing the beautiful horses and learning about each of them and their racing careers. My favorite horse was Popcorn Deelites, or Seabiscuit.”

The connection with the movie was a draw for Jonathan Clark, a visitor from Indiana. “Seabiscuit is a great movie and one of my favorites,” he said. “My fiancĂ© told me that Old Friends was home to one of the stars of Seabiscuit, so I had to come see it for myself.”

The mission of Old Friends is to provide a safe harbor and dignified retirement for Thoroughbreds whose racing and breeding careers have ended. Visitors are encouraged to come see the retirees. Tours are free and open to the public, but donations are always gladly accepted.
Old Friends, at 1841 Paynes Depot Rd., offers daily tours at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. year round. Tours take about an hour to an hour and a half. The mantra of Old Friends “Guests come out to see a few old racehorses, but they leave touched by the heart of a Thoroughbred hero.”

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