In the large waterside reception room of the Danversport Yacht Club, Michael Blowen returned to the Suffolk Downs racing colony Thursday night to accept honors for his heroic work providing dignified retirements for ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
As a crowd of 300 people looked on, Blowen was presented with the New England Turf Writers Association’s Sam McCracken Memorial Award at the 69th annual Awards Dinner.
The organization’s top honor recognizes Blowen’s pioneering efforts to found and maintain Old Friends, a racehorse retirement in Kentucky, with his wife Diane White.
As the couple has built up the sprawling retirement facility, which currently houses 107 horses, Blowen has never forgotten how he got his start on the backside as a groom at Suffolk Downs. This was where the former Boston Globe entertainment writer moonlighted in the predawn hours before work, feeding a growing passion for horses that eventually led him, and his wife, a former Boston Globe columnist, to found their internationally recognized charity in late 2002.
Coming back to Boston to receive an honor named for his longtime friend and colleague Sam McCracken was one of the happiest occasions of his life, Blowen said last night.
“I feel we owe a lot to our amazing equine athletes. The racehorses at Old Friends have earned over $8 million in their lifetimes, but they don’t have a pension or a 401K when they retire,” Blowen said, noting his facility has a waiting list of 61 horses in need of retirement homes.
But support across the racing industry is growing, he said, which builds on the foundation of support he received from the very beginning from his friends at the East Boston racetrack.
Blowen singled out longtime trainer and horse-welfare advocate Lorita Lindemann for praise. He thanked the trainer for whom he shares such affection for her support and friendship over the years that he refers to her as “my daughter.” Lindemann has sent several horses to Old Friends for retirement, including farm mascot Silver Charm, a pony she bought off a truck bound for slaughter. And through the years, the pair has worked in tandem on efforts to connected retiring racehorses with retirement options.
To the rest of his friends and associates, Blowen added, “I thank you so much for allowing me to take care of your amazing horses.”
Last night’s master of ceremonies, Turf Writers President and racing analyst Jessica Paquette, introduced Blowen by lauding him for working on an issue “close to her heart.” Paquette recently adopted off-track Thoroughbred What a Trippi, and stables him at Freer Stone House Stables in Maine.
When Blowen became the hands-down choice for this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the decision was based in large part on his unwavering commitment to helping horses, Paquette stated in an earlier interview with Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com.
“He has done so much,” she said. “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.”
It was clear from the reception that all agreed with Paquette’s assessment.
Throughout the evening, Blowen was congratulated and hugged by old friends. He swapped stories and jokes with those who knew him long before his idea to create this most remarkable retirement facility for Thoroughbreds even began.
And from the podium, with a little humor, he reminded everyone that regardless of all else that goes on in the industry, it’s still the horses that are central.
“Without the horses, there’d just be a bunch of short people running in circles around the track!”