05/24/2012 4:54PM

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Above:  Danny Perlsweig and Lord Avie have shared a special bond for more than 30 years.  

Story about Danny Perlsweig and Lord Avie's special relationship, appearing in Saturday's print version of DRFWeekend: http://www.drf.com/news/lifelong-bond-forgotten-champion

Chronicling the stories of older Thoroughbreds has been a passion since I visited 25-year-old Nashua at Spendthrift Farm in 1977.  I was just 16, and the look in that grand old stallion’s proud eyes brought me goose bumps.  The memory still does.

There is something about an old horse - I can’t quite explain what - that stirs the soul.  Is it as simple as wistful thoughts about our mortality, our memories, the ever-changing nature of time?  Old horses’ eyes hold such mystery and beauty.   Just think of what those eyes have seen…

Where other photographers are most moved by a dramatic race finish photo or difficult remote camera set-up, some of my favorite moments are spent quietly recording horses whose time in the spotlight is long past.  In some cases, the light’s gaze was never aimed their way.

The book Old Friends, published in 2001, recorded nearly 100 senior Thoroughbreds, from Affirmed to Zuppardo's Prince.  The book went out-of-print quickly, proving that others share my reverence for these magical animals. 

And so, when I learned that Lord Avie still received semi-annual visits from his trainer Danny Perlsweig, more than 30 years after their championship season…well, the beauty of that moment lured me back to Blue Ridge Farm.  I’d visited Lord Avie there a few times in earlier years….but in late April, during Derby time, I drove 18 hours round-trip to share 30 minutes with Danny and his old charge. 

I will cherish the memory.

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Merrick is the American benchmark for Thoroughbred longevity, dying at age 38 in 1941.  Other well known long-lived horses include Bargain Day (37), Lyphard (36, champion), Primonetta (35, champion), Stop the Music (35), Raja Baba (34), Gallant Man (34), Round Table (33, champion), Count Fleet (33, champion), Ballot (33, champion).

I think I’ve only photographed three Thoroughbreds older than Lord Avie - Bargain Day (36 at the time), Heartake (35, died the next year) and Stay Out Front (35).  

Although Tango Duke (AUS) is generally said to be the oldest Thoroughbred on record, Andrew Speedy at Racetrack Magazine says there is no horse of that name in the Australian registry. While other Thoroughbreds may have lived longer, racing organizations do not require death records.  As such, there is no way to confirm with certainty how many horses have lived to age 34 or older.

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MISCELLANEOUS FACTS ABOUT DANNY PERLSWEIG AND LORD AVIE:

Danny Perlsweig’s resume begins with, “Served in the U.S. Navy (1944-1946)” and continues …  Thoroughbred Horse Trainer (1954 – 2000)….Jockey (1946 – 1953)…. On New Jersey Top 10 Trainers List (1960 – 1994)…. Leading Trainer in New Jersey (1967-68)... New Jersey (Racing) Man of the Year 1968…. Leading Trainer in Pennsylvania (1969 – 1970)…. Trained 2 Year Old Champion Lord Avie…

The resume lists multiple stakes winners like Mr. Correlation, Noble Michael, Our Gary and Do It Again Dan (Do It Again Dan, who provided Julie Krone her first $100,000 victory, was named after Danny.  Danny’s first winner as a trainer, however, named Dandy Dan, was not).  The resume notes Danny’s impressive lifetime training record: 14% wins, with 35% in the money in 7,000 races.   

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Those dry stats don’t come close to capturing Danny, a fun-loving man with a mischievous streak.  But other lines in his resume offer hints:  Chairman of Equine Advisory Board, NJ Department of Agriculture; Speaker at Alcohol and Drug Conference, University of Louisville; Founded Backstretch Appreciation Day at Monmouth Park; Founded Backstretch Appreciation Day at Gulfstream; First Joe Hirsch Speaker at University of Arizona; Recipient of Dogwood Dominion Award; Inducted into the NJ Sports Hall of Fame; NJ Senate Resolute cites Outstanding Work with Horses and Horsemen.

If praised, Danny shifts praise to others, such as groom Charlie Butler.  Charlie worked for Danny for 30 years, dying in 1995 at age 78.

“Many people don’t appreciate all of the people that work on the backside,” Danny says. “With all due respect to the people who work now, there’s nothing like the old gentleman grooms.  Charlie was always a gentleman and he worked like hell.  I’d take him to my house and he would babysit my kids.  They all called him Uncle Charlie.”

It was in honor of Charlie and others like him that Danny started the Backstretch Appreciation Days at Monmouth and Gulfstream.  There, the backstretch workers are the stars of the show.  The event is world class, with games, raffles, free food, drink, T-shirts, hats.  Until the last few years, when he began scaling back and giving others some more responsibility, Danny was the driving force behind these events – even finding Jack Russell terriers, for races, and free beer.  Estimates of the crowds at the Monmouth event are sometimes over 1,500.

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By the time Danny was honored by Cot Campbell with the Dogwood Dominion Award in 1999 – recognizing an ‘unsung hero’ in racing - he was down to training just two horses.  Steve Montemarano wrote a Blood-Horse Final Turn column titled Just Danny that included this passage:

…Danny talks to his horses as friends and greets his employees like family members.  While bending to pick up an errant baling wire he asks about a groom’s diabetes.  To another with an alcohol problem, he lends a kind word and regulates his employee’s beer consumption as best he can.  At times you could find Dan on the phone trying to locate the family of a hotwalker with a chronic illness in need of medical attention.  Others would call him from jail looking for help.  The lost souls of the backstretch gravitated toward Danny.  They became part of his racing family, and were provided shelter from the storms…

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Every year, Danny Perlsweig gives out the trophy for the Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park.  Danny also occasionally wears a belt - in his stable colors of blue and pink - that reads “LORD AVIE - 2 YEAR OLD CHAMPION.” 

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Lord Avie’s dam was a proven producer – among Avie’s earlier foals were graded stakes winner Jolly Johu, stakes winner Avum and stakes-placed Averell.  Lord Avie’s sire distinguished himself as well (at the time of his death, in 1998, Lord Gaylord had sired 32 stakes winners, and a remarkable 82% of his starters won).  The gentle Lord Avie - with his solid pedigree, conformation and record - proved a solid sire throughout his career.  He stood at Spendthrift Farm first and then at Lane’s End from 1989 through 2002.  While his stud fee eventually slipped from $50,000 to $10,000, he remained popular throughout his breeding career.

All told, Lord Avie’s impressive statistics reflect 854 foals over 21 seasons. 78 (12%) were black-type winners, with 21 graded stakes winners and three champions – in Puerto Rico, Peru and France.  His average earnings per starter was $65,860, average earnings index 1.90 and comparable earnings index 1.46.

Lord Avie’s daughters have produced 48 stakes winners to date, including multiple Grade I winner Lawyer Ron and Golden Shaheen winner Our New Recruit.  (although Lawyer Ron only sired 2 crops before his untimely death in 2009, he is the sire of Drill, who won the G3 Barrera Stakes on May 12)

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Lord Avie’s final foals have quietly slipped from the racing ranks. Lord Avie has been pensioned for a decade now, so it is likely that his three foals who raced in 2011 are his last. 

One was a 2002 gelding named Dirge, a minor stakes winner bred and raced by William Pape and Jonathan Sheppard, and trained by Sheppard, who won 1 of 3 starts in 2011. Dirge is now retired at Pape’s farm.  Another foal, Lordsbridge last raced in a jump race at Ascot in April 2011, where he reportedly fell.   And Lord Avie’s most recent – and quite likely last – starter was a mare named Scotland Place, who raced 101 times over a 9-year career.  On September 11, 2011, at 113-1, she finished last - nearly 40 lengths behind the winner - in a lower-level claiming race at Hoosier Park.  The chart reads, “Scotland Place was never a factor.”

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Patricia Ramey helps with the day-to-day care of Lord Avie, an honor she takes very seriously.

“He captures your heart,” she says.  “There’s no way you couldn’t love this horse.  When I’m driving around the farm late at night, I’ll sit there and talk to him, and he’s just there grazing.  He’s happy as can be.  It’s so good to see how happy he is.”

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It took Patricia quite a while to find the grain Lord Avie liked best - she tried out a dozen or more types.  It’s double-milled, like the type he ate in Kentucky. 

Patricia feeds him in the morning - he gets the grain and alfalfa hay, and in winter she prepares him a special hot mash she calls ‘soup.’  Considering his tooth issues, the wet mixture makes the mash easier for him to eat.

“Sometimes times with the alfalfa hay, the flakes are really tightly pressed,” she says.  “That’s a little bit hard for him, because he doesn’t have the front teeth.   Tonight I was in there with this particular batch of hay, pulling it apart for him.  And he just comes over and he nuzzles me.

“It’s so hard to describe, but it is such an immense feeling because he’s so majestic and such a gentleman. I’m down on the ground pulling apart his hay, and he’s just nuzzling me with his nose, just to say ‘that’s exactly what I wanted you to do.’”

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Patricia puts two fans in his stall when the summer days heat up, and Lord Avie spends much of his time indoors when it’s buggy.  In winter, he spends most of his time outdoors, soaking up the sunshine.  

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Lord Avie still moves around very well - easily able to break into a gallop if he sees something exciting, like a horse van.  Among the things he considers extra-exciting, Patricia says, are grey horses.  If he sees one walk by on the farm driveway, his tail goes up, he puffs up and struts around.

Lord Avie doesn’t wear shoes.  His hooves and hoof walls are in excellent condition.

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When Patricia feeds Lord Avie in the evening, he won’t let her leave his stall - he positions himself between her and the door - until she gives him his ‘scratches.’  She scrubs along his belly and back and neck, and he skews his head up and his gums quiver as she hits the right spots.  He gets so excited and happy that he turns around and nips lightly at her.

After a few minutes, he lets her pass.

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Patricia receives notes inquiring about Lord Avie from time to time, but Danny is usually his only visitor each year.  The farm staff loves visiting with him, and Miners Mark, in an adjacent stall, keeps him company.

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Patricia gave Lord Avie a bath before Danny’s recent visit.  The old stallion does not care for cold water, so Patricia brought in four buckets of lukewarm water to keep him happy.

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Lord Avie had three teeth removed earlier this year.  Not only did they use antibiotics, before and after, but after the procedure Patricia brewed hot water and prepared two hot family-sized tea bags.  She lavaged Lord Avie’s gums with a big syringe, then pressed the warm tea bags on his gums, on and off, for 36 hours after the teeth were removed.  They also used bantamine.   Lord Avie didn’t miss a beat, going right back into his regular grazing routine.

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“I’m so glad Lord Avie has Danny in his life,” Patricia says.  “A lot of horses, you know, they were a champion when they were two years old, but their trainers don’t go out of their way to come to visit them every year.”

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Patricia knows Lord Avie is slowing down, and she doesn’t take it for granted.  “Whenever he goes, one of these days, it’s just going to break my heart,” she says.  “But I will at least know that he’s had a really good horse life.”

Above: Lord Avie, Jorge Velasquez up, in the 1981 Travers' post parade at Saratoga.

Above/below:  Lord Avie at age 20 at Lane's End, in Versailles, KY, in summer 1998.  He was pensioned four years later.

Above:  Lord Avie, 26, at Blue Ridge Farm in 2004.  Despite not having been cleaned up for this photo, you can still clearly see how classy - and classic - he is.

Above/below:  The historic Blue Ridge Farm on April 27, 2012.

Above/below:  At Blue Ridge Farm, near Upperville, VA, a farm road jigs off to the right down to Lord Avie's barn. Note the white-and-blue sign that reads "Lord Avie." (photo below taken in 2011)

Above: This old Blue Ridge Farm stud barn, built in 1903 when the farm was first established, houses two stallions and both stall doors open into the stallions' respective paddocks.  This side houses Lord Avie and, on the opposite side is Miners Mark.  Other Lane's End pensioners have lived out their days at this farm, too, like Pleasant Colony and Fit to Fight.

Above/below:  Lord Avie had tooth issues in 2010, and during that time Patricia Ramey had difficulty keeping his weight on.  The then 32-year-old stallion was slimmer than usual that summer - but still full of spirit!  

Above:  When I visited in summer 2010, it was hot and the freshly bathed Lord Avie - despite several fans - would not dry.  I like how it looked for the photo, as his body reflected light beautifully - but I'm sure Patricia wished he were dry.

Above:  Lord Avie's "house." Patricia Ramey (below) makes sure his every need is met, from tooth care to making sure a fresh salt lick and fresh water is always nearby.

Above:  By late 2010, Lord Avie's face - unmarked when he was racing - already had quite a bit of white.  Since then, the white hairs have spread even more.  Note the glowing eyes.

Above/below:  Lord Avie at age 33, on a chilly morning in December 2011.  Note his woolly coat.  Older Thoroughbreds tend to sprout much thicker coats in cold weather than their younger counterparts.

Above: Lord Avie at Blue Ridge Farm in December 2011, at age 33.

Above:  Danny Perlsweig feeds Lord Avie a peppermint on April 27, 2012.  Lord Avie is 34 and, when this photo was taken, Danny was 85.  Danny, ever youthful, turned 86 on May 21.  "How did that happen?," he asks.  "I'm only 16!"

Above:  Danny Perlsweig's license plate.  Dandy Dan was the name of the first horse Danny purchased, and trained, and won with, in 1954.

Above/below:  Danny visits with Lord Avie and feeds him peppermints on April 27.  

Above: Lord Avie visits with Danny Perlsweig and Patricia Ramey, April 27, 2012, at Blue Ridge Farm.

Above:  Twice a year, Danny Perlsweig visits Lord Avie and brings him peppermints.  Until the autumn.....

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Above:  Lord Avie's sire Lord Gaylord, in 1998 at Worthington Farms in Maryland.  Two months after this photo was taken, the kind-hearted stallion died.  He was 28.

Above:  Cloudy's Knight, Lord Avie's most successful offspring, earned more than $2.6 million. The 2007 champion turf horse in Canada, Cloudy's Knight is perhaps best known for running a close second in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Marathon at age 9.  Shown with Jonathan Sheppard, a strong supporter of Lord Avie.

Above:  Magical Maiden, one of Lord Avie's most successful foals, won two Grade Is and earned $903,245.

Above:  Dirge is Lord Avie's most recent - and probably last - US winner.  The sweet-natured one-eyed runner, trained by Jonathan Sheppard, won at Gulfstream Park in January 2011 at age 9.  He is now a retiree at owner William Pape's farm in PA.

Above/below:  Lord Avie is also a successful broodmare sire.  His daughter Donation, above, shown at age 12 at Fasig-Tipton KY in November 2007, is the dam of $2,790,008 earner Lawyer Ron (below, winning the G1 Whitney).  Notice Donation's eyes, so much like her sire's.

Above/below: Lord Avie's daughter Delta Danielle (above, at Dark Hollow Farm in Maryland, 2004) is the dam of Golden Shaheen (G1) winner Our New Recruit (below), who earned $1,470,915.

   

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A very special thank you to Joyce Fogleman and Lane's End Farm, Patricia Ramey and Blue Ridge Farm, Danny Perlsweig, and Bob Curran and Rick Bailey of the Jockey Club.  If anyone ever sees Danny out-and-about at the track, be sure to thank him for all he has done to improve the backstretch workers' lives.

Lord Avie's past performances: http://static.drf.com/PPs/2012/LordAvie.pdf

Sports Illustrated article from the spring of Lord Avie's 3-year-old year, 1981: 

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1124226/1/index.htm

Ocala-Banner article after Lord Avie won the Florida Derby:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=3MgTAAAAIBAJ&sjid=igYEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3749,4708865&dq=lord-avie

Lane's End website: http://www.lanesend.com/

I was unable to find any racing videos of champion Lord Avie - he retired 3 years before the Breeders' Cup even began! - but if anyone knows of any, please let me know.