I’m glad that even the folks who work at Old Friends admit that they’ve got favorites among their dozens of retirees; in a recent message announcing the death of Ruhlmann, Old Friends founder and president Michael Blowen wrote:
I really like all of our retirees but each one of us at Old Friends develop special bonds with particular athletes…Diane loves Creator; Tom dotes on Swan’s Way, Beth adores Ogygian, Janet has a soft spot for Mighty Mecke and Fortunate Prospect, Mercer is partial to Awad and Kudos and Ruthann loves Popcorn Deelites and Special Ring. Sylvia’s really attached to Bull inthe Heather. Wallenda gave his favorite human, Val a Christmas gift. And I had two: Sunshine Forever and Ruhlmann.
It makes me feel a little less guilty, then, that when I go to Old Friends, there are three horses that I really want to see: Ogygian, Williamstown, and Will’s Way.
Which is not to say that there aren’t other retirees who charm me, and if you click on their names, you’ll land on their Old Friends biographies, which details their race records and how they came to be at this home for Thoroughbred retirees in Georgetown, Kentucky. If Old Friends doesn’t provide a bio, I’ve linked to their Pedigree Query page.
On this brisk December day, our visit began with a stop at the paddock of Creator, who at first, in his Group I winning eminence, barely deigned to acknowledge us, but his eagerness for the treats in the bucket that our guide Valerie was carrying soon outweighed his desire for sang-froid, and he walked—no, no trotting for him—over to the fence. “Don’t get too close to him,” we were warned. “He’s a good guy, but he’ll bite.”
Next up: Danthebluegrassman, about whom Valerie at Foolish Pleasure wrote on a number of occasions, up to and including his retirement to Old Friends last spring. When last I saw him, he was at a satellite farm, getting ready to join the Old Friends community; today, he is a full-fledged member, in his own paddock, and eager for visitors. He loves people—or maybe he just loves the treats we bring him—but he is one of the most obliging horses I’ve ever been around. He looks fit and healthy, and quite happy to be enjoying the Kentucky sunshine in his spacious paddock.
The stallions at Old Friends have their own paddocks, but some of the geldings live together, and Popcorn Deelites and Special Ring have become best friends in their retirement. Our guide told us that they are “inseparable,” and that it’s impossible to remove one from the paddock, leaving the other behind. “They’re like teenage boys,” she told us. “They’re buddies, they play together, they fight.” And as we walked away from them, they charged up the hill, racing each other to the top.
One of my favorite moments involved Stage Colony, new to Old Friends; he’s been there only a little while, and he apparently doesn’t quite get that when visitors come with a bucket, treats are on the way. When the other horses saw us coming, they came to the fence with alacrity, knowing that carrots and mints would soon be offered. This is as far as we got with Stage Colony:
I wrote about Ogygian (left) last spring, after seeing him at Old Friends for the first time in March. He’s been something of a hard luck horse, battling injury in his short racing career, disappointing at stud, and losing an eye before finally coming back to the United States and a soft landing in retirement. He is sociable and trusting, despite all that he’s been through, and makes a beeline for visitors who come to his paddock.
Williamstown (below) is the sire of horses that belong to two friends of mine; one, a two-year-old, is in training with Del Carroll and expected to make his first start early in the new year. Even without that sentimental connection, this son of Seattle Slew would have captured my attention when it was announced that, after having stood at stud for more than ten years, Williamstown was scheduled to be euthanized after being declared infertile, about which I wrote more extensively about last spring, after seeing Williamstown for the first time. He looks terrific and carries himself with all of the aplomb of a graded stakes winner. “Oh, you’re here to see me? Be right there—just a sec,” as he ambles, meanders over to the fence. He’ll let you get close, but generally only with treats—he disdains pure fandom, pure adoration. “Whatcha got there for me, eh?”
And finally, Will’s Way, the Travers winner, the Whitney winner, the son of quintessential New York horse Easy Goer. He was mighty messy but awfully friendly…none of the graded stakes hauteur of Williamstown, despite his having won multiple Grade I’s and two of New York’s most storied races.
Our tour guide extraordinaire, Valerie Mulgrave, spent about two hours with us as we wandered the farm; we lingered at various paddocks, we fed treats, we asked questions. And when we got home this evening, we discovered, much to our surprise, that she’d written about us in this week’s Old Friends blog. Check it out for a different, more complete look at our time at the farm today, and for mention of some of the horses that I didn’t get to talk about here. And here is a link to the post about my visit here last spring.
Old Friends survives on donations, both big and small. If you’re interested in helping to support its work and the many retirees who are living happy and healthy in the Bluegrass (we should all be so lucky!), please check out the website for many ways to give.