Photo: Michael Blowen and Sunshine Forever. (Barbara Livingston)
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Friday, December 19, 2014) – The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters announced today that Old Friends, the nonprofit Thoroughbred retirement center, will be presented with the Special Eclipse Award during The 44th annual Eclipse Awards on January 17, 2015, at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
The Special Award honors extraordinary service, individual achievements in, or contributions to the sport of Thoroughbred racing.
Founded in 2003 by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Georgetown, Ky., cares for more than 150 rescued and retired horses, including several pensioned stallions. This year Old Friends became the new home for two of racing’s biggest stars from the past 20 years, bringing 1997 Kentucky Derby hero Silver Charm back to his native state after retiring from stud duty in Japan and acquiring three-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude after the 7-year-old gelding finished racing.
Other American Grade I winners currently residing at the main farm include Amazombie, Affirmed Success, Afternoon Deelites, Bonapaw, Commentator, Dinard, Early Pioneer, Fabulous Strike, Geri, Gulch, Hidden Lake, Kiri’s Clown, Kudos, Ogygian, Sarava, Sean Avery, Seek Gold, Special Ring, Tinners Way, Wallenda and You and I.
“This is just unbelievable,” Blowen said. “We started with one horse just over 10 years ago and now we have 166 retirees. We have several Eclipse Award winners already at the farm; I can’t wait to show them mine!”
Additional fan favorites include Rapid Redux, winner of 19 consecutive races in 2011, and Little Silver Charm, the operation’s miniature mascot and the farm’s only non-Thoroughbred. Old Friends also operates Old Friends at Cabin Creek: The Bobby Frankel Division near Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, where past Travers winners Thunder Rumble and Will’s Way greet the public, along with infamous 100-time loser Zippy Chippy.
Even while working full-time for the Globe as a staff writer, Blowen would spend mornings at Suffolk Downs working for veteran trainer Carlos Figueroa. Mucking stalls and walking hots aren’t typical side jobs for journalists, but for Blowen they were excuses to satisfy his growing fascination with horses. Shortly after Blowen retired from the Globe he accepted a position in Kentucky as Operations Director for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
In 2002, the news that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had perished in a slaughterhouse spurred Blowen to form his own operation, with an emphasis on retired stallions. Old Friends would be accessible to the public as a way of raising awareness for racehorse retirement and improving racing’s image. The presence of high-profile stars would help to raise money and give comfortable homes to lesser names.
“It allows us to take other horses that really didn’t do as much but deserve a retirement just as well,” Blowen said. “I want people to come away with really good feelings about the sport of horseracing because I adore it and we’ve made some inroads in that direction.”
The farm is run by five full-time employees, four part-time employees and a dedicated group of 24 volunteers. Blowen praised his team, particularly the cast of volunteers.
“Old Friends is like a great baseball team. We have talent at every position. I’m just the lucky manager,” Blowen said. “The staff and volunteers are the ones that do it all and, of course, what keeps the team together are our great athletes.”
Said recently retired jockey Rosie Napravnik, an Old Friends board member: “Old Friends is a special place. It is such a well-run organization and Michael Blowen is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met in racing. When I pull up there I’m practically sprinting up the driveway I’m so excited. I don’t really get starstruck by people but I get startstruck when I visit Old Friends.”
Old Friends offers daily tours and attracts up to 1,000 visitors per week during their busiest times of the year.
“Our industry has made significant progress in allowing former racehorses to live out dignified retirements thanks to Old Friends and likeminded organizations,” said NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop. “We are grateful to Michael and his dedicated team of staff and volunteers for the positive impact they’ve had on our sport’s commitment to aftercare and on the lives of hundreds of Thoroughbreds.”
For more information, including how to donate or volunteer, visit OldFriendsEquine.org.
The Special Award will be given for the 24th time since it was inaugurated in 1971 to honor Robert J. Kleberg, manager of the famed King Ranch. Subsequent recipients have included racing luminaries such as Bill Shoemaker, C.V. Whitney, Edward J. DeBartolo, Richard Duchossois, Russell Baze, Laffit Pincay Jr., Dale Baird, Team Zenyatta and last year’s recipient, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA). Old Friends will be the third aftercare-related recipient, following Monique Koehler, founder of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, in 2009, and the TAA.
The Eclipse Awards, presented by Daily Racing Form, Breeders’ Cup and The Stronach Group, are bestowed upon horses and individuals whose outstanding achievements in North America have earned them the title of Champion in their respective categories. Those awards are voted by NTRA, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB). Awards also are given to recognize members of the media for outstanding coverage of Thoroughbred racing.
A complete list of past Eclipse Award winners, including the Special Award recipients, can be accessed online at http://ntra.com/en/eclipse-awards/history.
Tickets to The Eclipse Awards ceremony are on sale for $400 each or $4,000 for a table of 10, also via Ravencraft. For reservations, please contact Michele Ravencraft of the NTRA at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (859) 422-2657. For more information on The Eclipse Awards, visit ntra.com/eclipse-awards.
About the NTRA
The NTRA is a broad-based coalition of more than 100 horse racing interests and thousands of individual stakeholders consisting of horseplayers, racetrack operators, owners, breeders, trainers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity, welfare and integrity of Thoroughbred racing through consensus-based leadership, legislative advocacy, safety and integrity initiatives, fan engagement and corporate partner development. The NTRA owns and manages the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, NTRA.com, the Eclipse Awards, the National Handicapping Championship, NTRA Advantage, a corporate partner sales and sponsorship program, and HORSE PAC, a federal political action committee. The NTRA has offices in Lexington, Ky., and New York City. NTRA press releases appear on NTRA.com, Twitter (@ntra) and Facebook (facebook.com/1NTRA).