Monthly Archives: October 2009

Sunday October 25, 2009

Autumn has definitely arrived in central Kentucky. Today was the kind of crisp, bright day that defines the fall season, making you think of apple pie and pumpkins.  Or, if you are a horse, carrots and peppermints.   Of course for a horse, every season reminds you of carrots and peppermints…

We had a busy day of tours, with folks from all over—Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Toronto and Kentucky.  Only one child visited today, a little girl of 2½, who wanted nothing more than to ride one of the horses. She begged and pleaded; she really, really wanted to ride Kiri. Or Awad.  Commentator, Gramps and Clever would have been fine to ride, too. But she made do with carrots, mints and kisses for Clever.  Her poor parents.  When they want to ride that badly, that young?   Mom and Dad might as well start saving for lessons now.

All the horses are doing great.  This morning we walked up toward the back of the farm, where Black Tie Affair was out in the small ring. Ogygian might have an “issue” with Blackie. I have never known Ogie to care one way or another if another horse is getting attention, but today he fussed and fussed while we were visiting Blackie. He didn’t stop nickering and fidgeting until he had our full attention.  It was unusual for him.  Maybe Blackie is the first horse Ogie has felt is worthy of jealousy. What?  You think they don’t brag amongst themselves?  I can just hear it.  “Well, I was really fast and won seven of my 10 starts. “  “So what?  I was Horse of the Year. Top that, old man!”

Jade Hunter and Fortunate Prospect came right over for treats today too. They are both too dignified to get very worked up over attention. Gramps meandered over, looking fuzzy and ready for winter.  After a few carrots, his slobber turns a fabulous, unnatural shade of acid green—grass mixed with carrot.  It’s better than permanent ink.  No getting that out of your clothes.

Jade Hunter still has the clumsiest lips of any horse I have ever met.  He must have dropped three out of every four carrots he was given today. Most horses can pick out a single blade of grass if it looks especially tasty.  Jade, on the other hand? I doubt he could bite a person if he tried; he’d probably miss!  But he is a nice horse who loves to be patted and appreciated.   Who needs limber lips?

We went about half way up the hill and stopped by the big paddock with Mighty Mecke, Wallace Station and Bluesthestandard.   Wally came over first, followed by Mecke.  Blue meandered over last, but he is the biggest carrot hound in that bunch. He pushes right in front of the others; I had to hold his halter so the other two could get their share.  It’s funny how true colors come out when treats are involved! Wally and Mecke just looked at him like he was a pain-in-the-neck little brother and they were his long-suffering older siblings. 

Across from the three musketeers is The Name’s Jimmy.  Jimmy loves his treats too, and he found one lady today who just thought he was the most beautiful horse, ever.  She would have fed him all day. Jimmy just preened and looked smug.

Our other new horse, Smokey Stover, is looking great.  He has put on a few pounds and is getting his fuzzy winter coat.  He is a very black, with little of the brown you see along the nose or flanks of a lot of the “dark bay or brown” horses.  He is also extremely kind, and he seems to enjoy going outside at night with his new buddy Benburb.  Speaking of Canadian horse Benburb, we had an animal chiropractor veterinarian visit today from Toronto.  I am especially thankful because he did a spinal adjustment on Jake the dog.  Jake really seems to appreciate it, too.  So thanks, Dr. Rosenberg!

I heard through the grapevine today that the photo of Kent Desormeaux riding Silver Charm (see the Jockey Day post from last week for a link) is on display in the jockey’s room at Keeneland.  Charmie, who has long believed he is the most famous retired racehorse, finally has his racing photo hanging at Keeneland.  He is one content (little) horse!

That’s about all the news from here. We hope you can visit us soon; autumn is such a great time for a walk on the farm.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.

* thanks to recent visitor Carolyn Nicastro for her photos!

-Val

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Thursday October 22, 2009

Invigorate 1992-2009 

Invigorate passed away this week.  Apparently he decided it was time and lay down, surrounded by his buddies, on a fine fall day in Kentucky.  He was only 17. Viggie was Michael’s racehorse and there was a special bond between the two of them.   I suspect that Diane is even more devastated by Viggie’s loss.

Invigorate was another example of the everyday side of racing. He wasn’t a particularly stunning horse, just a chestnut gelding with 69 starts and a little under $100,000 in earnings.  He wasn’t fancily bred, although fairly close up in his pedigree you could find Grey Dawn, Damascus and the great mare Mahmoud.  But he ran in the money 41 times in his 69 starts—an example of consistency, soundness, and grit. 

Viggie loved attention, carrots, and his pasture mates, not necessarily in that order.  When I first started visiting Old Friends, and later when I became a regular, Viggie lived in a large paddock at what was then the back part of the farm.  His buddies were Kudos, Remmington, Riva Way, Bingo and Easy Ellis.  I can’t tell you how many times that gang of geldings refused to come over for visitors, studiously ignoring us as if to say, “Please.  We are grazing here, no time for greeting guests.”  I often saw them all lay down for naps, as if they were preschoolers on rest time.  And yet, I also can’t tell you how many times I heard the echoing thunder of hooves well before I saw them gallop up the field to the fence, looking for treats. Viggie was a carrot hound, no doubt, and he thought nothing of threatening, biting, kicking or jostling his buddies for prime treat position.  

A couple of months ago I was at the farm on a day when the blacksmith was there to trim feet.  Now living in a different paddock, back in the “new” part of the farm, Viggie and his cohorts decided that having their feet trimmed was not on the agenda that day. The geldings ran, bucked, kicked, and otherwise made everyone’s life difficult.  I’m not sure if Invigorate ever had his feet done that day.  But throughout it all, there was no doubt he was having a very large time.    

We have lots of retired horses at Old Friends.  They are all different and they all have unique personalities.  But I can tell you that no horse, not one, ever enjoyed his retirement more than Invigorate.  He had everything he wanted—grain to munch, grass to graze, buddies for romping.  Lucky him. 

-Val

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Tuesday October 20, 2009

Jockey Palooza Day!  And Secretariat himself could not have ordered up better weather.  It was sunny and warm, topped with trees turning color, happy horses and fun people.   Bobby Ussery,  Jean Cruguet, Patty Cooksey and Chris McCarron represented the retired jockey colony.  Kent Desormeaux was everywhere, talking, laughing and posing for photos.  Chris brought his current crop of Jockey School students.   It was a fabulous afternoon.

Earlier in the afternoon Old Friends was a beehive of activity.   Stalls were given a final cleaning, the big field by the pond was mowed for parking.  The tents were up and tables were being arranged.  I took a tour of about 30 FFA kids from North Dakota.  They were fun kids, high-school aged, and most of them pretty farm- and animal-oriented.  It took awhile to convince them to grab the carrots and start feeding, but by the time we got to Jade Hunter and Gramps, they were having a great time.  They really enjoyed Commentator as well, since he does not miss a tour.  I didn’t have my usual mints, but we discovered he was just as happy with a spearmint TicTac!  One of the girls made sure she had a photo taken with him—she said she’ll never pat another multi-millionaire horse.  They happily passed the hat for a donation, and ended up with shares in Pops and Charmie.  They were great kids and I enjoyed spending time with them.  We also had a large group of 4-H kids visit today.  There was a lot of activity for even a normal weekday, let alone a special event day.

By mid-afternoon, Furlong’s Catering had set up the mobile Cajun barbeque pit and the smells were incredible.  Tommy from Furlong’s did the very best barbeque—pulled pork, ribs, chicken and dirty rice—that I have ever had.  I heard a lot of folks say it beat anything they have ever had in Memphis, Texas or anywhere.  It was that good.  I think several of us were trying to decide how to sign him up for a permanent stay at Old Friends!

By 3:30, people started arriving.  It was great how all the jockeys just fit right in.  They mingled amongst the crowd and talked with everyone.  One of the things that most impresses me about the jockey colony in Kentucky (and it might be this way everywhere but my experience is in Kentucky) is how friendly and accessible these world-class athletes are.   Kent Desormeaux wants photos of the five or six Old Friends horses he rode, to frame for his house.  I overheard Chris McCarron talking to a recent business school graduate about opportunities in the horse business.  Bobby Ussery dropped a donation in the bucket every time he picked up a beverage at the bar.  All of them participated in the live auction part of the evening, including an auction of “Seattle Slew’s Last Carrot” autographed by Jean Cruguet.  Really– it was a nice, big, autographed carrot!

The horses were funny throughout all this. Black Tie Affair, The Wicked North and Wallenda were in the big barn during the festivities.  Blackie got all wound up when he heard the PA system for the first time.  I think he figured it was race time.  Norty HATED that people were in the barn and not feeding him treats.  If anyone walked past him without paying homage, he banged on his stall door until they did.  Wallenda mostly turned his butt to the door and watched through his window as everyone wandered around outside.   Dan, whose paddock is adjacent to the main yard of the farm, stood at his fence fascinated with the activity.  He and Creator might have had the most fun, just taking it all in.  Clever wandered to the far side of his paddock and stayed there.  No foolishness for him.  Oh, and Escaped stood by his fence greeting all the people who walked up the driveway from the parking area. 

But the high point of the day for me, and you really had to be there to fully appreciate this, is when Kent decided to “ride” Silver Charm.  Now, Charmie is tiny, as you know.   Kent’s feet hit the ground.  And Charmie hasn’t been ridden maybe ever, or at least not in the recorded history of man.   All I can say is that Kent laughed so hard, after the little guy nearly dumped him!  Can you imagine?  The guy rides 1200 pound Thoroughbreds at 45 miles per hour.  And 250 pound Silver Charm almost did him in.   And yes, there are photos here:  http://www.equisportphotos.com/Clients.  Scroll down to the Old Friends folder.  Matt Wooley is a terrific photographer who takes the photos that end up as our poster series. 

I hope we can do this again sometime because it was great fun.  People hung around until evening–at 7:30 when I left, Kent was still walking around talking with folks.  If you were there, thanks for joining us and helping support our horses.  If you weren’t able to be there, thanks for spending this Tuesday evening with Old Friends.  We hope you can visit us soon!

-Val

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Sunday October 18, 2009

After a long week of rain and cold weather, today was a beautiful, if still somewhat cool day in Kentucky.   I took the day off from tour guiding duties to spend the day ay Keeneland.  The highlight?  A maternal grandson of Kiri’s Clown named Get Stormy won the Grade IIIT Bryan Station Stakes.  There was lots of cheering going on, both during and after that one. 

I did get to meet Smokey Stover earlier this week, and he is just beautiful.  He is very tall, in fact he may officially be the tallest Old Friends resident.  I think he is registered as dark bay or brown, but for all intents and purposes he is black, with white legs and a white face.  Very handsome.  On Friday evening I stopped by the farm and he was out in a paddock with Benburb. The two of them, white Ben and black Smokey, were running and showing off like a couple of, well, racehorses! 

Friday was a very brisk evening and everyone seemed to feel great–Dan and Flick, Creator, Awad, even Wallenda had to show off.  Of course, I cringe every time I see Wallenda buck or kick , since he has that weak back ankle.  But he manages himself nicely–he arches his neck, plants his feet and half rears, but never twists on that bad foot.  I have to say, he looked pretty gorgeous.  I might be biased, though.

I am keeping the entry short today, since I plan to post again on Tuesday or Wednesday–after Jockey Palooza on Tuesday evening.  If you didn’t know, Old Friends is hosting a gathering of jockeys this week for autographs, photos and general fun.  If you are nearby, please join us.  Details are on the website’s main page.

In the meantime, thanks for spending this short Sunday with Old Friends.  I’ll be back later this week, and back on tour duty next Sunday.  We hope you will visit us soon!

-Val

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Sunday October 11, 2009

There was no better way to spend a weekend, if you are a racing fan, than this one.  There was the Keeneland Fall Meet, a visit to Three Chimneys, another Zenyatta win , and it all ended with a great day at Old Friends.  What more could anyone ask?

After a cool and rainy start on Friday, the weekend weather slowly improved, culminating in a glorious fall Sunday with bright sunshine and blue skies.  We had family in from Pittsburgh, and yesterday we took them on a much-anticipated tour of Three Chimneys farm, where we saw Smarty Jones, Big Brown and Dynaformer.  Three Chimneys does a great tour, and our guide clearly loved his “boys.”  My sister-in-law, who teaches high school biology, was working out a genetics lesson plan using Thoroughbred horse breeding as a teaching tool.  I thought that was pretty cool. Why didn’t my high school science teacher talk horses?  I’d likely have been a much better science student!

After Three Chimneys we went to Keeneland, where my five year old niece promptly picked, and won, an exacta.  We do start our racing fans young around here.  I think the best part of having non-horsey friends and family visit is watching them learn how much fun racing can be–niece Karly jumped up and down cheering her horse in each race.  Her mom and dad had fun, too.

Back at Old Friends today, we had a very busy day.  I missed the 10 am tour, but there must have been well over a hundred people visiting today.   The horses are a riot when there are that many people—they are so good at showing off!  Awad, Pops and Ring had a thunderous race down the fenceline.  Dan and Flick did their “fighting horses” act.  Clever ran and ran and ran some more, showing off all afternoon.  With the rain this past week, Pops and Ring have their beloved mud puddle back. Once again, Ring did his best to splash us.  Even Escape got into the act, galloping around his paddock with his tail in the air.

Commentator, it turns out, is a character.  Apparently he answers to “Tator,” which seems perhaps not the most dignified of nicknames, but what can you do?  He proves once again, however, how darned smart good racehorses are. He has already figured out which of my pockets carries the mints.  He won’t even take a carrot from me.  He just drops the carrots on the ground and waits for the mints.  He is really friendly, too, and I’m afraid I have another favorite.  Well, along with Wallenda, Black Tie Affair, Kiri, Norty, Clever, Kudos, Jade Hunter, Sunshine, Dan, Awad, Proper, Gramps….and on it goes.  You see my dilemma, right?

The Wicked North is back in the barn during the daytime, as he alternates a paddock with Commentator. Norty is right next to Wallenda, and this is a problem.  Both horses set up a racket when tours come into the barn.   And if the other gets attention first, oh boy, it can get loud!  Benburb also gets in on the noise making.  At the other end of the barn, Black Tie Affair just rolls his eyes and waits his turn. And speaking of smart horses, Blackie’s new thing?  He is working the sympathy vote.  He puts his head on my shoulder and sighs, like he is so unappreciated.  And while he has health issues, he is far from pathetic!  But it sure works.  People give the “awww” and offer him the choicest, fattest carrots.  Makes me roll my eyes!

I wanted to wait around today for our latest horse to arrive, but I couldn’t.  This evening, Smokey Stover arrived from California.  Smokey is a six year old gelding who won over $500,000 in his career.  Since tomorrow is a work holiday, I’ll get a chance to meet him. I know he is a gorgeous, 17-hand, nearly black horse with white trim.  Smokey’s owner passed away last year and Smokey was looking for a post-racing home.  Like some of our other horses, his arrival in part is due to efforts made by the Friends of Barbaro.  And like all of our other horses, he’ll have a great time greeting his fans and basking in buckets of attention.

I want to end with kudos to Zenyatta:  I just love to watch her race. If you haven’t seen her, look for her in the Breeder’s Cup next month, or take a cruise around the internet and watch some of her races.  She is spectacular.

That wraps up another weekend in central Kentucky, and another Sunday with Old Friends.  Thanks for stopping by; we hope you can visit us soon!

-Val

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Monday October 5, 2009

Appygolucky  1997-2009 

In the midst of the celebration of our new residents yesterday, joy was tempered by the knowledge that one of our own was suffering.  This morning, Appygolucky was euthanized.  A rapidly-worsening spinal condition was making it hard for him to stand, let alone move freely, and he had been stall-bound as a result.  

Appy wasn’t famous, exactly, unless you were among those who had followed his career primarily at Beulah Park in Ohio.   His best quality just might have been his tenaciousness, a trait that allowed him to earn $125,000 over 10 years and 100 races.  That is a hard lifetime of work for any horse, but especially for one who was just a little guy with a kind heart.   

Two of Old Friends’ great fans, Bea and Viv, helped to retire Appy this past spring.  They made a trip down to say good bye this weekend, and I know it was difficult for them.  They loved Appy deeply and my heart goes out to them today. 

I don’t know one single thing about Appy’s life prior to Old Friends—was he loved, cared for, and appreciated? Or was he just a racing commodity?   It doesn’t change the end result, I suppose,  because someone ensured he spent the last part of his life comfortably.  As I took tours through the big barn, Appy never once failed to come over to his stall door– he did enjoy his carrots and mints.  More than that, he loved to be patted, brushed and fussed over.  I don’t think he was in pain; his body just wasn’t his to control anymore.  Even so, he was always patient and gentle with people.

You could say Appy’s story is the other side of racing, that of the everyday horses who pay their way on the track but never become famous.  While he was a far cry from the kind of racehorse who wins big, well-known races, in the end maybe he was among the lucky ones.  He lived his final days among people who cared.  And he’ll be remembered for far more than his 100 races.  I’ll remember the little bay horse who tried to the very end, with kindness, heart and tenacity.

-Val

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Sunday October 4, 2009

commentatorThere was a palpable buzz in the air at Old Friends this morning; if you didn’t know what was happening, you’d assume the imminent arrival of a member of some royal family.  And, in truth, that’s what was happening;  Commentator arrived at Old Friends today.  His limo (a Sallee horse van) pulled up at about 11:45, with a handsome red face peering out the window.  The side door opened, and with a red carpet walk and a loud whinny, Commentator strode down the ramp to greet his waiting fans.  His leg wraps were removed, and he strutted to his new paddock in front of the big barn.  His fans lined up at the fence for the show, and he didn’t disappoint.  With another loud neigh, he broke into a run along the fence line. 

Commentator is a deep, dark, red horse.  Even with his winter coat starting to come in, he is beautifully dappled.  At Old Friends, we’ve seen our share of horses recently off the track and I have never seen one as fabulous looking as Commentator.  He is muscular, but not too tall, leggy but not lanky.  He has a pretty face and bright, inquisitive eyes.  Like every other great racehorse I’ve ever met, he is competitive:  of course, Bull inthe Heather had to race him.  In Bull’s defense, he is 19 with suspect feet, and he gave a credible showing.  Nevertheless,  Commentator smoked him and then peeled off and ran up the other side of his paddock.  On the other side of the driveway, Swannie didn’t even try to race the new guy—he was happy to just buck and kick.  He knows he can’t run nearly that fast, so he opted for looking pretty.

After a few minutes of showing off, Commentator settled down for some grazing.  He met his first tour at 1 pm, and had a couple of carrots before wandering off to graze some more.  But by the 3 pm tour, he came right over and we discovered our first thing about him:  carrots are ok, but mints… now there’s the ticket.  He knows exactly what the crinkle of cellophane means and he happily crunches them right down.  

Along with Commentator, our other new resident is a millionaire gelding named Bluesthestandard.  He arrived this weekend from Kristin Mulhall in California.  I don’t often immediately label a new horse as “sweet,” but Blue deserves it.   He is a medium bay horse with a white star.   When he arrived, Blue went into a paddock with Mighty Mecke and Wallace Station.  It is a perfect match, because the three geldings looked at one another and immediately decided they are going to be friends.  No squealing, no biting, kicking, or establishing a pecking order.  It was all for one and one for all—the new Three Musketeers.  By today, they lined up at the fence nice as can be.   Blue followed us along the fence for more treats, and as we moved off he ran back up the hill to his new friends.  This group is going to be a new favorite for visitors.

The arrival of a new horse always sets off some of the other horses, and we watched Escape run around this morning.  Dan and Flick watched with interest but didn’t get too excited.   Clever did not come over for single tour today—I think he decided it was just too much nonsense and he opted to let things settle down.

With Blue, Mecke and Wallace now next door, both Glitterman and Williamstown were a little put out.  G-man was challenging them all.  He doesn’t get that at his age he is supposed to be calm and mature!  Willy was just plain cranky; he tried to bite me.  We worked it out and by this afternoon when the owner of one of his sons came to meet him, he was much better behaved. 

Like all the horses at Old Friends, Commentator and Blue are going to love their new jobs greeting people and being “spokeshorses” for racing, rescue, and horses in general.  While they won’t be ridden, their job is just as time-consuming and engaging. They will get loads of attention, be patted, fed, loved, and admired every day.  And in between, they will have lots of green grass, space to run and play, and plenty of rest for the aches and pains of a long athletic career. What more could a horse ask for?  And lucky us: we can visit them, get to know them and share their personalities with their fans. 

We hope you can visit us soon.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends!

-Val

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