Old Friends is a regular stop on my trips to Kentucky; each time I visit the Bluegrass, I try to say hello to my favorites (Williamstown, Will’s Way, Ogygian, Commentator) and to meet some of the new residents. Michael Blowen and the Old Friends volunteers are incredibly generous with their time, and it’s easy to while away several hours moving from horse to horse.
Last Sunday, I planned to make a quick trip: I wanted a few photos of Affirmed Success, to give Commentator a peppermint, to meet Marquetry, the latest arrival. No two-hour tour for me that morning, tempting as that prospect always is.
Michael Blowen was in more of a hurry than usual, as he was getting ready to head north to Old Friends at Cabin Creek, which has been accepting horses since last winter and which will celebrate its grand opening on July 22nd. Nevertheless, he found time to whirl me around the farm in the golf cart, to bring me to horses and tell me stories. As we both got ready to leave, he said, “Come on! You have to say hello to Black Tie Affair!”
I hadn’t seen him since last October, when he’d been at Old Friends for just a few months. He’d looked older than he was, rather frail; he was suffering from a variety of maladies and while happy then to see his new best friend Blowen, he lacked the spunk of many of the other retirees.
On Sunday, Michael, pleased, told me that Black Tie was doing better, that he’d put on some weight, that his tumors were shrinking. Though eschewing peppermints, the 24-year-old eagerly accepted carrots and attention. He moved slowly and he had a lot of extra bedding on which to rest his old and weary bones, but he didn’t look unhappy, or in pain.
Bred in Ireland, Black Tie Affair raced 45 times, compiling a record of 18 – 9 – 6 and earning $3,370,694. He won the Hawthorne Gold Cup, the Iselin, the Washington Park Handicap, and the Stephen Foster. At four, he was third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint; the next year, he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in his last race. It was his seventh stakes win of the year, and in 1991 he was named Eclipse Older Championship Horse and Horse of the Year.
New York fans new to racing know Black Tie Affair less for his accomplishments on the racetrack than for his famous son, our favorite Evening Attire, now on a retirement farm in upstate New York. Evening Attire is himself a Grade I winner (2001 Jockey Club Gold Cup), as is another Black Tie Affair son, Formal Gold.
Black Tie Affair was well-traveled; he raced at tracks around the country, and he spent part of his breeding career in Japan. The efforts of a variety of people brought him to Kentucky for the last year of his life, where he could be pampered and coddled and praised, and where his infirmities could be well-tended.
Though a fly mask never does show a horse at his best, I’m glad that I got to see him one more time. R.I.P, Black Tie Affair. You’ll be missed.