Michael Blowen never gives up. Not on horses or his friends.
In good times, when his famed Kentucky horse sanctuary was aglow with sparkling fundraisers among the celebrity set, or in bad, when financial debt nearly threatened the very survival of his sprawling farm, Blowen got up everyday to greet fans of Old Friends, and usher sightseers on tours.
He kept up the pace even during the worst of days, this past spring, when he announced Old Friends was in financial trouble and needed to raise $200,000 in a matter of months.
He did not falter. He appealed to friends and fans of Old Friends and in short order the debt was under control, and Blowen reports the sanctuary for pensioned racehorses is now in the best financial shape of its life.
“Some people would get bitter after doing what he’s done for this length of time. But Mike always keeps the best interest of the horses in mind,” says New England Turf Writer Association President and Suffolk Downs racing analyst/publicist Jessica Paquette.
And, she adds, Blowen has been a loyal supporter of New England’s horseracing scene since way back, when Blowen was an intrepid Boston Globe entertainment writer by day, and a novice groom on the track’s backside in his spare time.
“Mike never forgot those roots, and he never forgot his friends.”
So it was a hands-down decision that Blowen should be this year’s recipient of the New England Turf Writer’s prestigious Sam McCracken Award for Lifetime Achievement.
The Turf Writer’s highest award, named for the late Boston Globe turf writer who introduced Blowen to the thrill of horseracing, goes to Blowen for his work creating Old Friends Equine, a retirement facility for pensioned racehorses, which currently houses 107 ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
Blowen and his wife, longtime Boston Globe columnist Diane White, founded Old Friends after learning the news that Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had died in a Japanese slaughterhouse. The news of the great racer’s death broke in 2002, and the couple founded Old Friends after that.
Suffolk Downs horse trainer Lorita Lindemann, a tireless advocate for horse welfare, remembers when Blowen learned of the tragedy.
“The biggest thing that set Michael off was the Ferdinand issues,” she recalls. “That’s when Michael stepped up to the plate and decided to do something about it.”
Not only did Blowen focus on sheltering old war horses and former superstars at his facility, but he also reached out overseas to retrieve stallions standing at stud, in countries where they were more vulnerable to winding up at slaughter.
Despite costing thousands of dollars to ship a horse internationally, Blowen successfully returned these noteworthy stallions: Creator, Sunshine Forever, Fraise, Ogygian, and Wallenda.
Blowen has also made room for some Mass Bred racehorses and old warhorses from Suffolk Downs, Lindemann notes.
“The bottom line is he never forgot his roots, or the horses here in New England,” she adds.
Massachusetts Thoroughbred owner Kim Gatto, a book author who has written several equine books, says Blowen is an inspiration to her.
“Michael’s commitment to the horse world has been a gift,” says Gatto, author of newest book Saratoga Race Course: The August Place to Be. She is so impressed with Old Friends she has donated a portion of sales proceeds to the facility.
“He works tirelessly to ensure that our great champions earn the retirement they so deserve,” she says. “His optimism and kindness is inspiring.”
And well-known horse-advocate and exercise rider Alex Brown, author of Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy, says Blowen’s work has made an indelible impact on the world of horse rescue.
“Michael Blowen has been and continues to be instrumental in generating awareness of the absolute need to provide a dignified retirement to the stars of our sport,” says Brown, who has also donated book sales proceeds to Old Friends.
So revered is the work of Old Friends that over the spring, when the facility announced it had hit unexpected and potentially devastating financial hardship, donors and donations came pouring in.
After Blowen announced on Facebook that the facility needed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars quickly, individual donations as large as $100,000 and as small as $1 infused the coffers in a matter of weeks.
Today, Old Friends is in the best financial position in its history, Blowen says. ([intlink id=”603″ type=”post”]Please click to read an earlier story about Michael Blowen[/intlink]).
And it is in high spirits that he will travel to Boston later this month to accept an award July 21 that he says means “everything” to him.
“Sam McCracken” for whom the award is named “was so instrumental in my interest in these animals and these athletes,” Blowen says. “I have a picture of Sam in the office, an old black and white that his son gave me after Sam died. When I look at it, and remember him, I realize that if everybody in horseracing was like Sam, Old Friends wouldn’t need to exist.”
But the fact Old Friends does exist has been a game changer for horses who would not otherwise have a safety net at the end of their racing careers.
“He has done so much,” Paquette says. “For example, he offers retirement to old warhorse geldings who deserve a happy retirement as much as anyone. The McCracken Award is our biggest honor, and I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more than Michael.”