Kentucky’s Old Friends Farm: A Tranquil Homestead for Heroic Horses Past Their Prime

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Nestled in the heart of Georgetown, Kentucky, Old Friends Farm is a tranquil haven providing a well-earned retirement to a unique fraternity of thoroughbreds – those that graced the racing circuit, basking in glory, as well as the lovable underdogs whose thundering hooves never led them past the finish line first.

Coming up on its second decade of operation, Old Friends is the outcome of Michael Blowen’s benevolent vision. Here, Blowen can effortlessly slip into his backyard any day and enjoy the serene spectacle of nature: retired racehorses, both perennial champions and those not-so-lucky ones, peacefully grazing under the vast American sky.

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Of all, one horse holds a special place in Blowen’s heart – Silver Charm, the venerable victor of the 1997 Kentucky Derby. Now sporting just four teeth, the gallant stallion spends his days idly meandering in the pasture, taking prolonged naps, and savoring crumbled morsels of Mrs. Pastures Horse Cookies from Blowen’s weathered hands. Like clockwork, Silver Charm then meanders to his trough, takes a couple of sips of refreshment before succumbing to the gentle call of slumber. Blowen fondly admits, “He knows what he wants, and when he wants it.”

Every day is a celebration at Old Friends, a sprawling retirement home for the fleet-footed, spanning across 236 acres of Kentucky’s sublime bluegrass country. Particularly during the pulsating Derby season, racing enthusiasts flood the farm, captivated by the stories of these undying legends.

Visitors, for a small fee of $30, are treated to an immersive 90-minute guided tour of the farm. They get to appreciate the grandeur of renowned residents like Silver Charm and I’ll Have Another, the gracious victor of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012.

Blowen, a former Boston Globe film critic, planted the seeds of Old Friends in 2003. The unfortunate slaughterhouse demise of the 1986 Derby winner, Ferdinand, deeply stirred him. It spurred Blowen to forge a sanctuary where racehorses could enjoy dignity and comfort in the twilight of their lives at Old Friends. Today, nearly 250 retired racehorses roam free at the main farm and its three satellite locations.

The routine at Old Friends is simple yet fulfilling for these neighing retirees. An average day for the likes of Silver Charm involves posing for adoring fans, spending ample time in adjoining paddocks, and delighting in an occasional gallop. His swift descent down his personal hill inevitably unfolds into a spectator wonder, causing Blowen to jibe, “He’ll come down that hill like he was opening the Lone Ranger show.”

Silver Charm’s arrival to Old Friends nearly a decade back marked a paradigm shift in the attitude toward retired thoroughbreds, spurred by his illustrious racing career and pedigree. It served as a poignant reminder that even after the familiar roar of the crowd fades, our obligations to these magnificent creatures persist.

The narrative of a racehorse shifts dramatically post-retirement. An active competitor’s life is guided by the instruction of humans. In stark contrast, retirement gives them the freedom to dictate their lives, helped by donations that support Old Friends’ annual operating costs.

Old Friends stands as a testament to former racehorses’ deserved honor and dignity. Silver Charm, despite his advanced years, continues to charm visitors and aficionados. He is a living monument to the glory days of horse racing. Blowen beams, “Think of the greatest thing you ever laid your eyes on and put it in your backyard, and then you’ll have an idea. Every day, I get that.”

Old Friends, more than a retirement community, preserves the pageantry and vibrant history of American racehorses. With each recollection and anecdote shared, the visitor gets a peek into the past, its magnificent victories, and the undeniable spirit of these majestic animals. The allure is strong, the memories unforgettable, the experience invaluable, but, it’s not just a place of past glory. It’s home to an undying spirit that can still rattle down a hill, stir up dust, and gallop back into the hearts of those who remember their racing days.