Thursday, April 30, 2015

Old Friends, retirement farm for racehorses, adds near-Triple Crown winner Silver Charm to its list of stallions

Story and photos by Kacie Kelly
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

UPDATE, June 10: Bob Baffert, who won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah on June 6 and trained Silver Charm, has donated $50,000 to Old Friends. The farm is also home to two other horses Baffert trained, Danthebluegrassman and Game On Dude. Baffert visited the farm just before this year's Kentucky Derby, according to a news release from Old Friends.

Silver Charm, named for his light-colored coat
Old Friends, the Thoroughbred horse retirement farm on Paynes Depot Road near Georgetown, about six miles from Midway, has been racing with activity. Its latest resident is 1997 Kentucky Derby winner and near-Triple Crown winner, Silver Charm.

Old Friends occupies about 236 acres and is home to 102 horses. It began with Michael Blowen, a former film critic for The Boston Globe, and a couple of acres in 2003.

Blowen launched Old Friends after the apparent slaughter of 1986 Derby winner Ferdinand, who won the 1987 Breeder's Cup Classic and was retired in 1989. In 1994 he was sold to a Japanese breeding farm and went through several facilities throughout Japan. In 2001 he ended up in the hands of Yoshikazu Watanabe, a horse dealer, and was removed from the Japanese horse registry on Sept. 1, 2002.

Ferdinand's story showed the need for a place like Old Friends, but Blowen was inspired long before that. "I'd always had horses and thought we could treat them better after racing and breeding," he said in an interview.

A gelding (a castrated horse) tends to have more options after racing while stallions get the short straw. "Stallions are considerably more difficult to take care of," Said Cindy Grisolia, an Old Friends director. Stallions are more territorial and headstrong, she said, and "Not everyone has the desire to take that on."

Blowen was more blunt: "At the end of the day, they weren't taking stallions." Saving them has become the mission of Old Friends, which has 14 race-winning stallions.
Another challenge Old Friends has taken on is repatriation, the process of bringing a horse back into the United States from a foreign country. Old Friends has successfully repatriated six horses since its founding and is gaining more momentum.

The newest celebrity staying at Old Friends after being repatriated is Silver Charm.

Blowen has an interesting history involving Silver Charm, foreshadowing his arrival. Silver Charm had always been Blowen's favorite horse to watch race. "He would look other horses in the eye and dare them to try and pass, but he never let them," Blowen said, with the notable exception of the Belmont Stakes. Silver Charm held the lead in the mile-and-a-half race until the just before the end, losing to Touch Gold.

Several years ago Blowen bought a small horse for $40 to save him from slaughter. He named this horse Little Silver Charm. Years later the former owners of Silver Charm wanted to repatriate their horse from Japan, and six years later, in December 2014, Silver Charm arrived at Old Friends.

Silver Charm is just one of many beautiful, prize-winning characters at Old Friends. Game On Dude, a gelding, left, came from California. "He is just the biggest puppy dog of a horse," said Grisolia. He quickly made a friend in Yankee Fourtune, and they now live in the same paddock, Grisolia said: "They lay together, drink and eat together, they play together."

Old Friends allows horses to live together if they exhibit friendship, Grisolia said, "Our farm manager, Tim Wilson, works very hard to create good relationships and safe relationships," and Wilson decided they would be a good match based on their personalities.

Another less likely friendship exists at Old Friends between Eldaafer and his paddock chums. Eldaafer, Arabic for "victorious," is the horse that came with friends: Yahoo and Google, two goats that live with him. "They cannot be separated,” Grisolia said. ”They are just joined at the hip and love each other."

Blowen recalled, "I made arrangements to get the horses and didn't remember anything about any goats! They said, 'We got your horse here, we will bring him in the morning,' and I said, 'great,' and he said, 'We got to bring his pals too."

Blowen said he accepted the goats because they were a package deal and life-long friends of Eldaafer. "He went crazy, literally crazy," Blowen said, when the goats got out one at a time. Yahoo is the only goat to ever attend four Breeder’s Cups to cheer on his friend.

Old Friends does not turn away any horses, Grisolia and Blowen said. "It’s our mission to not only support the all these horses but we support the breeding  industry,” Grisolia said. ”We support the Thoroughbred industry; we are racing fans."

Blowen wants horses to retire with the dignity they have earned. "When they retire they have no Social Security, no 401-K," he said. "We are the last leg.You're bred, you race, you retire.”
"We feel like we created the natural next step," said Grisolia.

Old Friends chaperones tours of the farm three times a day, between spring and early fall, depending on the weather. The farm receives about 20,000 tourists a year. Tourists can receive a tour from Blowen himself and can request to see any horse on the property as long as it is healthy.

"We just like people to come here and have fun," Blowen said.

Old Friends also is involved in community outreach with several schools and women's groups. Blowen is available for speaking engagements several times a year. For more information, visit www.oldfriendsequine.org.

No comments: