10/03/2014 11:07AM

New book details history of Old Friends retirement facility

“History of Old Friends: A Home for Retired Thoroughbreds” was written by Rick Capone.

“History of Old Friends: A Home for Retired Thoroughbreds”

Author: Rick Capone

Publisher: The History Press; soft cover; $19.99

“One stands before an exceptional Thoroughbred as before a treasured work of art. Such an animal is the creation of the sublime artist ...‘Nature.’ ”

– Charles Hatton


Michael Blowen surely would relate with full heart to Daily Racing Form's eminent columnist, who penned those words more than half a century ago. For the past decade, the former Boston Globe movie critic has put his own appreciation for the modern Thoroughbred out there for the world to see as founder and operator of Old Friends, a now-renowned retirement facility for ex-racehorses in the bluegrass of Kentucky – and in so doing, he has become the smiling public face of equine rescue.

In “History of Old Friends: A Home for Retired Thoroughbreds,” author Rick Capone tells the story of this very special organization, the concept for which arose following the 2002 slaughterhouse demise of 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand.

Old Friends came to full fruition 10 years ago with the arrival from Japan of a pair of pensioned stallions in Eclipse Award-winning champion turf male Sunshine Forever and French Group 1 winner Creator, first housed on leased acreage at Hurstland Farm in Midway, Ky., and subsequently at Dream Chase Farm in nearby Georgetown. (A New York division was added in 2009.) Originally planned as a place where former racetrack warriors could live out their days in comfort and dignity, the project grew to become much more than that – today representing a symbolic, almost spiritual connection between man and horse.

Since 2004, some 200 Thoroughbreds have passed through Old Friends’s pastures, tended to personally by Blowen, his wife, Diane White, a small staff, and numerous devoted volunteers like author Capone himself. Many have been famous, among them champions Sunshine Forever (who died this year), Black Tie Affair, Gulch, The Wicked North, Hidden Lake, and Precisionist; Belmont Stakes winner Sarava; “movie star” Popcorn Deelites (who played Seabiscuit); 14 current Grade 1-winning millionaires; record-breaking 22-in-a-row victor Rapid Redux; and beloved, big-haired, soccer-playing farm mascot Little Silver Charm, a “mini” with a “maxi” ego who is convinced he’s a Thoroughbred.

Others are less marquee – hard knockers such as I’m Charismatic and Swan’s Way – but all are cherished, and each gets the red-bucket treatment; that is to say, plenty of carrots.

In addition to historical perspective, the book provides back stories on past and present residents as well as of people who helped turn Blowen’s dream into reality, from renowned veterinarian Doug Byars to superstar jockey Rosie Napravnik, who sits on the Old Friends board.

Old Friends is a charitable organization established one part from pure compassion, another to address a long-standing racing concern: the question of what to do with Thoroughbreds no longer useful on the track or in the breeding shed. At a time when groups like PETA have the ear of major news outlets, the industry must show that it does, in fact, care – and care very much – about what happens to its equine athletes. Through the burgeoning rescue and retirement movements of recent years, it has begun to do just that.

Old Friends may be overseen by Blowen, but it is largely a grassroots endeavor, of the people, and dependent for survival upon a loyal fan base – those who love the sport and recall past favorites with gratitude. It’s their contributions, and yours, that keep the machines humming at Old Friends and associations like it.

Fifty percent of proceeds from Capone’s book directly benefit Old Friends in Kentucky and New York. It is available in select bookstores and may be ordered by contacting Old Friends at (502) 863-1775 or online through www.amazon.com. Direct, tax-deductible donations to Old Friends can be made at www.oldfriendsequine.org/how-to-help.html.

Old Friends magazine now available

DRF has just published the third annual Old Friends magazine. The magazine is sold exclusively through Old Friends, and 100 percent of the proceeds from magazine sales benefit Old Friends.

The magazine focuses on the horses at Old Friends, both the famous and not so famous, but all the horses have great stories to tell. The content includes profiles of 29 horses at Old Friends, including Afternoon Deelites, Commentator, Gulch, Hidden Lake, Ogygian, Rapid Redux, Sarava, Thunder Rumble, and Zippy Chippy, with personal comments about the horses from those close to them.

Features include those on Old Friends founder Michael Blowen, Ohio-bred fan favorite Catlaunch, the New York division of Cabin Creek, the always-charming Little Silver Charm, and “Moneigh” paintings done by the farm’s residents.

The magazine is 100 pages and has a cover price of $10. To order, call Old Friends at (502) 863-1775 or go to its website: www.oldfriendsequine.org.