For a runty Thoroughbred who is said to bear a striking resemblance to Seabiscuit, and for the other retired racehorses who lucked into meeting Michael Blowen, a land deal in Kentucky has ushered in acres and acres of green clover and two warm, roomy barns.
In a happily-ever-after turn of events, which softens the blow of losing out on a planned expansion to a New York farm earlier this year, Old Friends Equine signed a lease last month on a 120-acre parcel near its Georgetown, Ky. headquarters.
The property at Merefield Farm is just a quick hop-skip away from the 92-acre homestead where racing legends have been retired to live out their final days as pampered pets.
It’s proximity means that all 107 pensioned Thoroughbreds currently under the care of the world renowned racehorse charity will be housed in close proximity, making it easier for tourists to visit their favorite horses, and offering more space for future retirees.
Noting that Old Friends currently has a waiting list of over 70 horses in need of a retirement home, Blowen says the lease agreement couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It’s just really terrific,” he says. “When tourists come to see specific horses, we don’t have to tell them some of the horses are farmed out at private farms. Some of our horses were over 20 miles away. Now they’ll all be consolidated in one area. This helps us with providing our care and it also means we have more space.”
Not only do the horses have a great home nearby, but the property owner has also pledged to help the charity, Blown adds.
“They want to hold fundraisers for us,” he says. “And they’ve already donated a really nice golf cart.”
The additional property has breathed new life and optimism into the charity, which just a few short months ago was forced to scramble for donations to meet unexpected mortgage obligations.
In April, Blowen learned that a clerical error at his bank, which occurred after he refinanced the sprawling property, resulted in Old Friends being $300,000 in arrears, Blowen told Blood-Horse in an article titled, Old Friends Experiencing Financial Woes.
Through a no-holds-barred fundraising effort on Facebook and in the horse community, the funds were raised, and Old Friends came back stronger than ever.
Three months later, when Blowen accepted the Sam McCracken Lifetime Achievement Award from the New England Turf Writer’s Association, he graciously thanked friends and supporters who had seen him through the tense spring months.
And he paid homage to his roots, thanking the good friends he made at Boston’s Suffolk Downs, where he once moonlighted as a groom while working full-time as a Boston Globe entertainment writer.
The relationships that budded in the dirt oval, while grooming horses in the late 1990s, came full circle on the Kentucky bluegrass last week; that’s when a scrappy little racehorse returned to Blowen to live out his retirement years.
Blowen briefly owned and raced New York-bred Summer Attraction, and helped arrange a post-racing career for the small gelding who went on to work as a lesson horse at a central Massachusetts riding stable.
Two weeks ago, Blowen learned the horse, who is a dead ringer for Seabiscuit, was retiring. And he couldn’t get him on a trailer to Kentucky fast enough.
“When he got off the trailer I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe he was here,” Blowen says. “ I used to visit him in Central Mass, and now he’s here, running in a pasture” alongside great ex-racehorses.
Buoyed by the recent acquisition of land, Blowen says he will revisit earlier plans to purchase a 262-acre parcel of land in Stillwater, NY, situated 15 minutes from Saratoga Race Course.
Despite the current economic woes facing the nation, Blowen says things are looking up at the charity he founded in 2002 with his wife, Boston Globe columnist Diane White.
New members of the Old Friends Board of Directors are working on aggressive plans to pay off the charity’s mortgage, and fundraising is going well.
“We’re very lucky,” Blowen says.
And so are the horses who run freely on the sprawling property of Old Friends.