L.S. has been a faithful reader of THE VAULT since we started up, five years ago, in 2011.
So it was that when she contacted me to say that she was planning to make her first visit to OLD FRIENDS in Kentucky, I was quick to send back my enthusiastic response. And I made a request, “If you can, please give ‘my boy’ Tinner’s Way a carrot and tell him that his friend Abigail loves him.” (I had made my first visit to OLD FRIENDS just last September, where Tinner and I established one of those connections that is impossible to forget. He actually called out to me as we were leaving and, honestly, if I could have done it, I would have stayed there with him forever.)
A few weeks back, I heard from L.S. who wanted me to know that she was back and had some photos from her visit that she wanted to share with myself and all of you.
So it is with the greatest pleasure that I ask you to welcome THE VAULT’S first Guest Editor and her beautiful narrative of a first visit to a very, very special place.
I’ve had an interest in horse racing dating back probably to 1972, when my aunt suggested we watch the Kentucky Derby and bet on the results with nickels. I saw Riva Ridge win, and I was hooked on horse racing from that point on. I rooted for Sham in 1973, disappointed at his inability to overcome Secretariat’s greatness, and hoped one day I could visit my favourite thoroughbred, wherever he was. I continued to follow horse racing through my teens, less later on as I raised my children and was involved in other family-related activities, but I still tried to at least watch the Triple Crown races each year.
In the spring of 2016 we were blessed with our first grandchild, a girl. I was planning a road trip to Chicago to visit with her, and while doing research for interesting attractions along the way and back I came across the Old Friends website. After reading about Old Friends, I realized that, aside from seeing my sweet baby girl in Chicago, I wanted most to visit this rescue and retirement home for thoroughbred horses in Georgetown, Kentucky. Visitors to Old Friends must register for a tour, so I emailed the organization, and was informed that there were two tours a day, at ten and three. I knew the morning tour was not possible due to our traveling schedule, so on the day of our departure, I pushed to get us on the road out of Chicago by 6:00am, so that we could make it to Georgetown in time for the 3:00pm tour!
We arrived in Georgetown, checked in at the hotel, and off I went to see the horses at Old Friends, especially Silver Charm. I made it to the farm by the time the tour was about to start, loaded down with only two cameras, one bottle of water, and sporting a large-brimmed floppy hat. A small group was gathered to the side of the main office building, waiting for the tour to start. I checked with the desk personnel and yes: my name was still on the tour list! I hurried over to join the group, which consisted of a nice mix of younger and older visitors.
Our tour guide was Tom, a soft-spoken older gentleman toting a bucket of chopped up carrots. Before we started down the slope towards the horses, he outlined some rules, including not getting too close to the horses. One young visitor asked if the horses would bite, and Tom said “all horses will bite”. Tom encouraged questions, even those from the younger children, and spoke fondly of the horses that were residents at Old Friends. I asked Tom about Abigail’s friend, Michael, and was told he was around, we might see him. My follow-up question was about seeing Tinners Way, so I could give him an extra carrot for Abigail. Tom informed me that Tinners Way was not on that day’s tour, he was in a paddock farther than we were going to go. Oh well.
And then, away we started, walking down a graveled driveway toward the barns and paddocks situated on the rolling hills behind Old Friends’ main entrance.
Our first stop was next to a paddock that held a beautiful golden chestnut, identified by a sign as Genuine Reward. His name was familiar, and just as I thought, he was the offspring of the incomparable Genuine Risk, the winner of the 1980 Kentucky Derby, and only the second filly to win in the history of the race. She had difficulties bringing any of her pregnancies to full term, and Tom informed us that this son of hers, Genuine Reward, was one of the only two offspring who survived to adulthood. I did ask who his sire was, and Tom took out his phone to look it up: the well-known Rahy. Genuine Reward never raced, but even at his age, twenty-three, he is a beautiful horse, and looks very similar to his mother. I was enchanted, and one of the first visitors to offer him a carrot, provided from Tom’s bucket.
Across the lane from Genuine Reward was Sarava, a Belmont Stakes winner, and spoiler for War Emblem’s Triple Crown bid in 2002. He is a very nice looking dark horse, in more ways than one!
We continued down the road, visiting with Game on Dude, who would not allow his paddock-mate, Launchcat, to eat any carrots! We had to walk down the path a little further in order to feed Launchcat, as he kept back from the fence while Game on Dude was monopolizing our attention. Both were also very good-looking thoroughbreds, and I noticed that Game on Dude appeared to have more of an Arabian “dish” look to his face.
Across the pathway we met and fed Amazombie, and his paddock-mate, Rapid Redux. Most of the horses we saw at Old Friends had halters with engraved name plates; some halters also included career highlights of the horse included on the plates.
We were not allowed to get close to another Kentucky Derby winner, War Emblem, as he was in a “time out” paddock, with a double fence between the visitors and this retiree. Tom explained that, after years of racing and being used in breeding, War Emblem did not have the best disposition, and was separated for his own good, and the safety of others.
At this point of the tour we were joined by a gentleman who had ridden down to our location using a golf cart. I’d been asked by Abigail to say hi to “Michael” for her, and when I discovered this gentleman was Michael, I passed on her greeting, and he replied favorably of Abigail. I also mentioned that she had asked me to feed Tinners Way an extra carrot “for her”, and I was disappointed that that particular thoroughbred was not on that day’s tour. At this point, Michael offered to take me in the cart up the road to where Tinners Way was housed, and I readily, and eagerly accepted his offer! I did grab a couple carrots from Tom’s bucket before getting in Michael’s cart.
We rode up the hill, past a barn, and to a paddock in which a chestnut horse was standing, with a mesh covering over his eyes, and so I met Tinners Way, son of the great Secretariat! It was obvious that this horse was special to Michael, and he talked at some length about the horse, and how Old Friends was started. I was able to give Tinners Way two carrots, and I seem to recall being bold enough to touch his velvety nose. After a few minutes spent with the elderly racehorse, we climbed back into Michael’s golf cart, and talked about Forego and Forli and some other famous horses before I was dropped off with the tour group.
I was glad to see I’d not missed much of the tour, as they were just finishing up visiting with I’m Charismatic, Arson Squad, and across from them, Danthebluegrassman, who seemed to be more interested in cribbing the railing than eating carrots! I took a couple quick pictures, then hastened to catch up to the tour, which was making its way around and down the final turn, toward a very special horse.
That special horse was Silver Charm, the champion that I really wanted to see, and even at his advanced age, he still looked great, though much more white than in his racing days. Tom had imparted a little biography with each of the horses we’d visited, but I don’t recall much about this horse, as I was soaking in just seeing this champion in the flesh. I do recall feeding him at least one carrot, and I might have stroked his nose lightly, I can’t recall for sure. I guess I was rather star-struck!
Across from Silver Charm’s area was the horse graveyard, with markers for all the horses that had been residents of Old Friends at the time of their death. While many of the horses had names I was not familiar with, I knew by the markers whose progeny they were. I was very sorry to have missed being able to visit Gulch, Fraise, and Kiri’s Clown, the last who was the son of Foolish Pleasure, one of my favorite Derby winners.
The final thoroughbred on the tour was Alphabet Soup. I am not totally sure, but I think this guy is one of Tom’s favorites, just by how he talked about him. For an elderly, sway-backed horse, Alphabet Soup had a lot of charisma. The kids gravitated to him, and he was fed several carrots. One of my pictures shows “the look of eagles” in this old-timer.
But Alphabet Soup was not the last of our equine tour, as Little Silver Charm awaited us and our attentions. A tiny pony, he had been saved from slaughter many years ago by Michael, the Old Friends founder, and named after Michael’s favorite race horse, Silver Charm. How could Michael know then that eventually Little Silver Charm would be pastured close to his namesake, the original Silver Charm?
With this last stop, our tour was over, and we headed up the slope toward the main office. However, I noticed a gravestone, all by itself in a small paddock, with the infamous name “Noor” engraved across its front. I caught up with Tom, and asked him about this particular stone. The story of Noor’s stone was then related to those of us remaining from the tour: many of the farms where famous racehorses were buried were being bought for development. Apparently, one of the original employees of the farm where Noor was buried recalled the location of the burial plot, and after getting permission, the remains of Noor were exhumed, and reburied at Old Friends. For those of you not familiar with Noor, he was the son of Nashrulla, and was owned and raced by the same man who raced Seabiscuit, Charles S. Howard.
It was a very gratifying, satisfying visit, and I plan to visit again as time allows. Since I have a grandbaby in Chicago, it might not be too long before I walk the fields and roads of Old Friends again.