Updated on 04/15/2011 3:11PM

Old Friends retirement home makes emergency fund drive


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Old Friends, the Kentucky equine retirement facility specializing in the care of retired stallions, is making an immediate appeal for $300,000 this month after an alleged bank error has left the charity more than $200,000 behind on its mortgage payments.

Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends, said Friday afternoon that a mass e-mail sent out Wednesday to the Georgetown. Ky., farm's supporters already had generated more than $60,000 in funds.

"We've had over 400 separate donations," Blowen said. "I can't keep up with the e-mails. It's overwhelming. We haven't even opened all the mail yet, so we haven't gotten checks people might have sent. And it's the racing fans that are doing this. It's amazing."

Blowen said Old Friends hopes to raise $300,000, which would put the farm slightly ahead in its mortgage payments.

Blowen said he sent out the e-mail alert after the charity's bank, Citizens Commerce Bank, notified him that in rewriting the farm's mortgage terms from monthly to biannual payments, the bank had neglected to increase the payment amount to reflect accurately the more generous payment time frame. Citizens Commerce initially rewrote the loan terms about three years ago to allow Old Friends to make larger payments twice a year, after its major spring and fall fund-raisers.

"Consequently, the biannual payments we made were the same monthly payments and we were in arrears for more than $200,000," Blowen explained in the e-mail. "And, because the bank is under pressure from federal regulators, they couldn't do anything until the account was brought up to date."

Old Friends will host two fund-raisers this month, the Ferdinand Ball on May 5 and the Old Friends Homecoming on May 7. Both are annual events, as is a fall fund-raiser. It also is in line later this year for a $50,000 grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a distribution through Thoroughbred Charities of America, and what Blowen termed "a sizeable contribution" from the late trainer Bobby Frankel's trust.

Blowen said Thursday that Old Friends had consulted attorneys over the bank's mistake but that the fine print on the farm's mortgage released the bank from responsibility for errors that were not malicious, Blowen said.

Old Friends serves both as a retirement facility and a tourist attraction by offering tours to meet its retired racing stars, including Ogygian, Sunshine Forever, Awad, Creator, and numerous others. Blowen said the farm attracts 20,000 visiting fans each year.