Friday Morning Feed from Ovation: Old Friends

Each week we give a Standing Ovation to an individual or organization that is working to make a difference in the horse world. Today we honor Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Center.

Top photo from Old Friends Facebook page by Rosemary Cate.

Not even Derby winners are immune from bad luck and hard times. Luckily, Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Center is here to help.

In 1986, a handsome red colt by the name of Ferdinand won the Kentucky Derby. In 1987, Ferdinand won the Breeders Classic by a nose over Alysheba, then went on to be named Horse of the Year and Champion Older Horse. He was retired to stud in Japan after his five-year-old year. In 2002, Ferdinand was sent to slaughter with no announcement.

While Ferdinand’s story is heartbreaking, his death was not in vain. In response to his untimely demise, Old Friends was founded in 2003 to provide a graceful retirement for at-risk Thoroughbreds whose breeding or racing careers have come to an end. Old Friends in Georgeville, Kentucky specializes in stallions, so many former stakes champions call the farm home.

Old Friends receives no government funding and relies on donations and grants as well as revenue generated from giving tours. In the spring and summer seasons, over 1,000 visitors take tours weekly. The original incarnation of Old Friends included two horses in a leased paddock; the farm now contains 92 acres with additional lease fields as well as a satellite farms in New York.

Over 100 horses reside at Old Friends or a satellite farm, including:

  • 6 Eclipse winners
  • 22 Breeders’ Cup starters
  • 1 Hall of Famer
  • 1 Horse of the Year

Overall, Old Friends homes more stakes winners than any other farm in Kentucky.

Among these former superstars are such notables as Gulch, who was a tyrant on the track including winning the Breeders Cup Sprint and the Eclipse Award in 1988 for Champion Sprinter. Gulch also sired over 70 stakes winners including a Derby winner, Thunder Gulch. He retired to Old Friends from stud in 2009. Another resident superstar is Affirmed Success, a gelding son of Affirmed retiring with 9 major stakes wins on both dirt and turf. His last victory came at the age of 9. He lived briefly at the Kentucky Horse Park before being retired to Old Friends.

Not all of the residents are former track stars, however. Take a look at Popcorn Deelites, who was a low-level claimer who was lucky enough to be cast in Seabiscuit as the title star. (In a way, you could say Popcorn Deelites did beat War Admiral.) At the New York farm, Zippy Chippy has earned a happy retirement after never winning a single race in 100 starts. Zippy Chippy gained some notoriety for often refusing to leave the starting gate, biting other horses or pulling up mid-race, eventually getting him banned from his home track Finger Lakes. This old soldier retired from racing in 2004 but continued to work as a lead pony at Finger Lakes before true retirement in 2010 to Old Friends.

A retiree enjoys his lush pasture at Old Friends. Photo from Old Friends Facebook page by Laura Battles.

A retiree enjoys his lush pasture at Old Friends.
Photo from Old Friends Facebook page by Laura Battles.

Old Friends continues to gracefully retire both former champions and nonentities in need of a home. If you are interested in helping to sponsor a specific horse or make a general donation, please check out the Old Friends website for more information and to see a full listing of the farm’s retirees.

Follow Kristen on Twitter at @KristenKovatch.

If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.

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