Saturday July 23, 2011

Awad   1990-2011 

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.



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30 responses to “Saturday July 23, 2011

  1. Brianna

    I had a feeling when I received that blog post notification email on a Saturday it wouldn’t be good news.

    Noooooooooo 😦 He spent his last years surround by wonderful people in a wonderful place. 😦

  2. Brianna

    Rest in Peace Awad 😦 😦

  3. Val and everyone:
    Very sad to hear of the passing of Awad. I take comfort in knowing he was
    in a special place with alot of love and care.

  4. KLB

    Val and all at Old Friends,

    My deepest condolences on your loss of Awad;he’s was simply a gift to those of us who have been able to visit OF.

  5. MRO

    This is most devestating news. Awad was something else. He was everything you described and more. What a loss. RIP Awad.

  6. Fred J.

    What a great ambassador he was, an irreplaceable part of Old Friend’s spirit is gone. RIP Awad.

  7. Awad will be greatly missed at Old Friends. I send my deepest condolences.

    Angela Black
    (Sea Native’s girl)

  8. Jeann Wolverton

    So sorry to hear of Awads passing. He running in horse heaven now, with wings!!

  9. Charlie Pigg

    Thanks, Val. You always have the words.

  10. Carole

    What a beautiful, beautiful tribute, Val. I have fond memories of Awad….and of his love of carrots….when we spent a long w.e. at Old Friends a few years ago. My condolences to the entire O.F. family.

  11. Laura

    To the entire Old Friends family, you have my deepest condolences. Awad was one of the highlights of every tour, and he surely knew it. Rest in peace, swift one.

  12. Shannon

    My best memory of Awad is last year’s Mother’s Day when Hayes, Chooj and I came. You said we were going to see Awad and Chooj, 3, began: “AAAA-waddddd, AAAAA-wadddddd.” You bent over laughing.
    It’s so hard to lose one of these magnificent athletes but particularly Awad because of his incredible personality.

  13. Dear Val,
    I so much love your posts. All the horses come fully alive and their personality shines through your words. I am sorry about your loss of Awad. Yet we all know what a wonderful life he was able to enjoy with you all at OF. And I bet he knew that, too.
    Thank you all at OF for your great work. I look forward to visiting soon.
    heidi k

  14. So sorry to hear of your loss. It seems that you are losing your residents left and right. My two faves died earlier……Bonnie’s Poker and Academy Award. The deaths of those two broke my heart into a million pieces. But I am always saddened to hear of the loss of any champion. I don’t mourn by crying but instead I sit here thinking about them running in the fields of heaven ( it would be Bluegrass needless to say) alongside the champions that have gone before them. They will not suffer from disease or old age any more. They will forever be free and happy. R.I.P Awad. Now take off running!!!!!

  15. Roxanne Gile

    Val, Michael, everyone at Old Friends — I know how much this horse meant to all of you, and I’m so sorry for your loss. It was a privilege to meet Awad last fall, and I’ll not forget his stats as a racehorse, not to be outdone by his grace, beauty, and unique personality. Treasure your memories. RIP, Awad.

  16. Viv from Ivytree

    Dear, sweet, funny, Wadi. I will look for him in that paddock always, and expect to hear his unique call sing faintly on the evening breeze. Thank you for the memories, Val. Hugs, Viv

  17. Sue allen

    What a beautiful tribute. Such memories for recalling some future day. Love reading such beautiful memories and thoughts. Thank you.
    AWAD will be treasured and remembered always. Thank you all for the care you give these treasured friends. And sympathies for your loss. God bless you all.
    Sue Allen

  18. Teri H

    Awad, was in many ways a show stopper when giving tours. He was very accomplished – and he knew it. Awad was always very patient with children. Often, visitors would remark about how wonderful he still looked. I swear, he understood those comments. Awad’s personality was larger than life. He was never boring. I will so miss that.
    Teri H

  19. Gulchfan

    Like Brianna, I always hold my breath when I see a post on other than a Sunday…
    I’m sorry to hear about Awad, I remember him racing, I always watched for his blinkers.
    I remember a story they told on during a telecast when he was racing, about how he got his name…they said that the night Awad was born, there was another foal born before Awad, but he died, and that “awad”, in Arabic (I think), means, ‘the one that comes next will be stronger.’ Boy, were they right about that.
    RIP, boy.

  20. Judy Stock

    Val, I said it to Michael already, but the world is less wonderful without Awad in it. Thanks for your memories of him; mine are too many and too special to try retelling, but from the number of comments I know he touched many more than anyone will ever know.

    No cheers today………..

  21. Barbara Bowen

    Val, that was such a poignant tribute to a horse that seemed to be so much a part of Old Friends. I am very sorry for his passing, and all of you, and feel like I knew him well after reading your memories.


  22. Ruthann

    Thanks as always for your perfect words. Awad was Mercer’s special horse and your words have helped him cope with the loss.

  23. I remember Awad racing! The turf crouched at his feet. Funny thing was that later in life, our partners in one of our horses had also been part owners of Awad. Their luck didn’t carry over with our horse. Of course, there weren’t and will never be too many like him. I wish I’d gotten to see him again. Our trip in the spring of ’09 was way too long ago. Too many have gone since then. Of course, some new/old friends (most of whom I’ve known at some point in my past) are there now who I need to come say hello too. It’s just sad that the next time I say hello to Awad will be in the graveyard along with Bonnie, Blackie, and Oscar.

  24. Thank You Val for the nice memories a memorable horse.

  25. Carol Chilcote

    What a beautiful description of Awad! He was a very special horse. We have attended the Arlington Million numerous times, but Awad’s 1995 victory was our favorite. His passing will certainly leave a big void at Old Friends. We particularly looked forward to seeing him everytime we visited Old Friends.
    Before HRTV and TVG, we use to go to the local OTB to watch the big races. I always enjoyed talking with a man who was a professional gambler, as he always had interesting insights into the races. I never forgot his comment about Awad. He said that Awad was deadly at 1 1/4.

  26. Our wonderful “legends” are leaving us far too quickly–and far too soon. Thank you for your wonderful post, Val, and my condolences to everyone.

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