We lost Awad this morning, in his paddock, peacefully, on a summer morning. There are few horses at Old Friends who could top Awad for career accomplishment, beauty, and over-the-top personality. We will all miss him tremendously, including his trainer David Donk and family, who visited Awad and loved him dearly.
I have been asked many times which Old Friends horse receives the most passionate visitors. Perhaps surprisingly, Awad is the horse that comes to my mind. I can’t tell you how often people asked to see him. The other horses absolutely have their fans, but the people who came to see Awad always had some special, personal connection with him. I once gave a tour to a couple who were on their honeymoon when he won the Arlington Million and celebrated their anniversary by visiting him at Old Friends. People often came to the farm with memories of his Saratoga Sword Dancer having a special place in their lives. A lot of racing fans think of horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed as being defining stars. I can tell you that Awad, for many people, was every bit as definitive.
Awad ran 70 times, finishing first, second or third half the time. He wasn’t a particularly large horse, but he was tough. He raced until he was seven and he retired with winnings of 3.2 million dollars. He set two course records, for 1 ¼ miles in 1:58.69 at Arlington Park and 1 ½ miles in 2:23.2 at Saratoga. Awad still holds both records. He had a Hall of Fame caliber career, missing only perhaps, to some, a Breeder’s Cup win. That is some racehorse. And along with those statistics, Awad was a major personality. He was a huge ham, intelligent, slightly neurotic, and loved a good joke. He was competitive, athletic, and sometimes moody. Everyone who knew him has stories illustrating all these traits.
Awad was a carrot horse. He was not a big fan of apples. He didn’t particularly care for mints and took horse cookies while letting you know it was all about the carrots. One time I was giving a tour to a rather obnoxious, slightly inebriated man. I had apples and carrots in the treat bucket, and the tourist ignored my comment that Awad preferred carrots, telling me that all horses like apples better. I shrugged and Awad took care of the rest. He chewed the apple until it was good and sloppy, and then spit slobbery pieces of apple all over the guy who gave it to him. Yes, Awad surely loved a good joke.
Or there were the times when Awad saw the tour group across the paddock, came at a dead run and slid to a rearing stop on his hind legs, right in front of everyone. He once caused a grown man to back up so quickly that he fell on his butt and slid backwards. Earlier this spring, Awad and Swannie entered into a mock battle, both horses up in the air on their back legs, with the people caught right between them in the pathway between their paddocks. We ducked and ran. Both horses laughed at us that time.
Awad knew what, and who, he liked and disliked. A couple years ago he took a dislike to someone on the tour. First he nipped at the man. Then as we walked away he ran alongside us, kicked out with his back leg and banged the top fence board right next to the man he didn’t like. More people scurrying away, more satisfaction for Awad.
Popcorn Deelites and Special Ring lived in the paddock across from Awad. Both those geldings, but especially Ring, loved to aggravate Awad. If Ring was bored, his entertainment of choice was to stand across from Awad and engage him in a game of “who’s the better horse.” Nickering, neck arching, posing, stomping, running and bucking, Ring knew he could get Awad’s goat. And Awad, being the competitive horse he was, could never just let it go.
Awad was most settled when his familiar pals were in their neighboring paddocks—Sunshine Forever, Swan’s Way and of course, Kiri’s Clown. When Kiri had to go to the barn to get new shoes, Awad fretted until his buddy returned and all was back to normal. If there was a new horse on the farm, most particularly a new stallion, it never escaped Awad’s notice. If that new stallion happened to move into a nearby paddock it rocked Awad’s world, and not in a good way. When Patton moved nearby, Awad was grumpy for weeks. I learned that the hard way, when normally non-threatening Awad bit me. My fault, because we were standing within Awad’s reach while openly admiring Patton.
But my very favorite memory of Awad is the time a family brought their wheelchair-bound daughter to Old Friends.
The girl, maybe in her early 20s, was not able to move or communicate beyond some very basic expressions. Mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law pushed her along the paths between paddocks. She clearly enjoyed seeing the horses. And Awad–the jokester, the show-off, that smart, smart horse–stretched his nose between the lower boards of his fence to gently nuzzle the hand of the girl in the wheelchair.
As I think about these stories, it is clear to me that Awad was, first and foremost, his own horse. He knew who and what he was, and expected people to recognize it as well. He was kind when he should be, demanding when it was his due, and always, always a memorable personality. I think it is just like Awad to choose how he died—in his paddock on a summer morning, on his own terms—no trip to the clinic, no poking and prodding, and no difficult decisions to be made. Awad was among the now-diminished group of stallions in residence at Old Friends when I first visited the farm, and I kind of thought he was like the sun or the wind—always been there, always would be. There are many, many people who will never forget Awad, myself among them. Knowing him was, without a doubt, our honor and privilege. But it won’t be nearly the same without him.