“OLD FRIENDS” expresses the way many fans feel about the magnificent former contenders retired at our farms, whether or not the horse is very old. But there’s another aspect to the “FRIENDS” part, too, and it’s wonderful. It’s the bonds the horses form among themselves. We have several twosomes, and a few threesomes, of special pals at the Georgetown farm that I’d like to devote a few posts to celebrating.
Popcorn Deelites and Special Ring are the longest running and best known pair of buddies at Old Friends.
For all too brief a time, Seabiscuit actor Popcorn enjoyed the friendship of Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Fraise, one of the most impressive athletes, and one of the most lovable horses, ever to live at OF. After Fraise passed in 2005, Popcorn adjusted to a paddock mate who was more…shall we say, in-your-face? And so, the famous rivalry began, Pops and Special Ring each striving to outdo the other for attention and treats.
For several years, multiple Grade I winner though he is, Ringy had to take a back seat to the movie star with most visitors, but in the summer of the Equestrian Games, 2010, with tours ramped up to at least four a day, Ring made a breakthrough. It might not have been as amazing a feat as the competitors were doing over at the Horse Park, but Ring did very well out of it.
He invented his lip flip schtick! Who would have thought a mere lift of the lip, just a flash of an identification tattoo, would upstage a movie star, train an endless stream of admirers to offer a carrot on cue, and make a chubby retired gelding one of the most photographed horses in the state of Kentucky?
Popcorn Deelites and Special Ring have been best buds for over a decade. They’re inseparable. Ring may steal his buddy’s treats occasionally, but he is absolutely protective of Popcorn, and Pops seems to love that security.
A less well known pair of pals, because they live at the very back of the farm where most tours don’t go (it’s a long hike), are Easy Grades and Ukiah. Easy Grades, now 17 years old, competed in the 2002 Kentucky Derby – War Emblem’s Derby. He raced on through the years, still working hard long after the limelight was just a memory, while advancing age and athletic aches gradually caught up with him. In November 2008 he finished fourth in a $5000 claiming race at Churchill Downs, where he had once paraded to “My Old Kentucky Home.” It didn’t seem right. When trainer David Vance was contacted by Old Friends, he graciously helped facilitate Easy’s retirement to the good life he had amply earned.
Easy Grades joined a herd on the Georgetown farm and got along with all its members, but he never had a best buddy till he met Ukiah. A few years younger, Ukiah was lucky to start out with the best of connections, owners Jerry & Ann Moss, trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith, but he changed hands over the years, running on after his competitive days were over. When they learned of his situation, the Mosses financed Ukiah’s retirement to Old Friends. That Ukiah had never run in the Derby didn’t matter a bit to Easy. What began as love at first sight has endured through changes in the population of their herd and in location. Wherever they are, Easy and Ukiah are happy being there together.
This post ends with a less obvious kind of friendship, but one that can be a deep bond. Stallions are too territorial to share a paddock. Each needs to rule his own bit of turf. They don’t rest their heads on one another’s backs or indulge in mutual scratches, but stallions do hang out together, race each other up and down their fences, and engage in what look almost like silent gossip sessions, seeming for all the world like codgers trading tales on a courthouse bench. The bond Awad and Kiri’s Clown shared was especially wonderful. They were rivals who loved dissing each other like the French razzing the English from the battlements in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But they were inseparable, each on his own side of the fence but rarely far from each other. If one went to the barn the other would call or run his fence line until his chum returned.
The growing friendship between Geri and newcomer Alphabet Soup is less dramatic. They peacefully enjoy each other’s company. And after all, they have lots in common. Both raced in the mid-90’s, won Grade I victories, they even competed at the same meets at times, though not against each other. Though Geri didn’t quite equal Alphabet Soup’s win in the 1996 Breeder’s Cup Classic, he did finish second in the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Mile. Who knows, maybe they do have a lot to talk over. Maybe they’re discussing who’s likely to win this year’s Kentucky Derby. Wouldn’t you like to listen in? I would.
all photos by Laura except Kiri and Awad in 2012 by Beth