Monthly Archives: August 2017

August 21, 2017

95% Solar Eclipse at Old Friends in Georgetown

What the Big Event was like at the farm!

Today the long awaited event finally arrived. An almost full solar eclipse. Unless an eclipse is total there’s no corona, but the moon covering all but a little sliver of the sun would be pretty dramatic, we figured. The light would get dim and strange, the angles of shadows would be weird. With eclipse glasses we’d see the sun shrink to a narrow crescent, and the world would look like a slightly unfamiliar planet under an alien sun.

2017 08 21 - LSC Ready for the show

We all prepared for the show.

Michael led a special Eclipse Tour, while some of us gathered near the barn, next to War Emblem’s paddock, where there was a clear view of the sky. Some of the barn crew had supplied themselves with eclipse glasses, and Dr. Waldridge had some super-duper-quality ones which he kindly let us pass around.

2017 08 21 - Humans enjoy the show

Gradually the silhouette of the moon began crossing the sun (Dr. Waldridge: “Now it looks like Pac-man.”). We wondered what the horses and other animals would do when the light got strange and dim. Would it excite them? Puzzle them? We hoped it wouldn’t scare them. Here are some of their reactions, in photos taken during the eclipse.

2017 08 21 - Rapid Redux unconcerned

Rapid Redux found the event thrilling. (That’s just his summer see-through fly mask, not eclipse gear.)

2017 08 21 - Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup. “What eclipse?”

2017 08 21 - Eldaafer and Boule dOr

It got dark enough that some of the photos are underexposed. See how impressed Eldaafer and Boule d’Or are. And Photon, at the left.

2017 08 21 - Google

Not to mention Google, who was more interested in posing. Mountain Goat!

2017 08 21 - Timmy unconcerned

Or Timmy.

Suddenly, at the height of the eclipse, we saw every single horse over in paddock 51 raise their heads in unison, on total alert. What made them do that? we asked each other. What mysterious thing did they, and only they, sense?

2017 08 21 - 51 - 1 Whats That

On the alert

All at once, they took off running. By then it was so dark the camera’s shutter speed had probably slowed down. Any motion came out as a blur. Only a few of them are in the photo, but they were all sweeping across the pasture at a fast gallop.

2017 08 21 - 51 - 2 Running

Sorry about the focus. It was darker than the photo looks.

As I moved to try to get more of the geldings in the frame, the reason for their dash came into view. A car had parked by the roadside so the people in it could enjoy the nearly full coverage of the sun. A car! Woo, what’s a car doing there? Hey guys, look, a car, wow! Let’s run over and investigate!

2017 08 21 - 51 - 3 So what

Well, but after all, it was just a car.

The paddock 51 herd soon got bored and went back to where they’d been grazing before (as Amazombie, left foreground, wondered what was up).

2017 08 21 - Dude and Cat aftermath

I don’t think Game On Dude (foreground) and Catlaunch looked up once.

Soon the moon passed on over the sun and it began to get light again. Shadows returned to their usual sizes and colors brightened. The birds, the only ones besides the humans who seemed to notice anything strange was going on, stopped their roosting behavior and began singing again.

2017 08 21 - War Emblem - Big so what

War Emblem: “Ho hum.”

War Emblem seemed to have the final word. “I knew the sun wouldn’t get eaten up. Speaking of eating, when are you-all going to stop gawking at the sky and deliver my dinner?”



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August 11, 2017

2017 0811 Johannesburg Smile arrives 1

Johannesburg Smile arrives at Old Friends

Here’s a story of a horse who isn’t a star. His retirement didn’t make news. But his journey says a lot about a certain kind of horse. Horses who once thrilled racegoers, once earned nicely for connections and bettors, but later face an uncertain future. Here’s a story of how people worked together to gain one horse a secure retirement.

Johannesburg Smile, foaled in New York in 2007, won the 2011 Noble Nashua Stakes at Belmont Park at 4 years old. At 5 he won the Lemon Drop Kid Stakes. At 6, he reached the top of his game when claimed for $100,000 by Mike Repole and trained by Todd Pletcher, he nearly won the 2013 Toboggan Stakes (G3). Have a look at the determined heart of this horse when he was in his prime.

2013 Toboggan Stakes. Johannesburg Smile is on the inside, post position 1

His body language says it all. At 6 he was into what he was doing and gave his all. He was what the game is all about.

He ran some more good races, but by age 8, time had caught up with him. When he ceased to appear on the track, his apparent retirement made good sense. Then, at age 10, Johannesburg Smile reappeared on the track. This time his claiming tag was $12,500.

You see two kinds of horses racing at that age. One kind, like John Henry, Cetewayo, or Old Friends resident Flick (1992-2016; raced to 2002), stays on top of their game and their competitive urge keeps burning bright. They’re still into it, they can still do it, and that’s great. The other kind isn’t so lucky. For an older has-been, having “back class” can be a double-edged sword. Some people hope the horse will regain some form, or if an ungelded male, might interest a breeder. But by age 10 his former 114 speed figure had dwindled to a dull 80 (Equibase). He was racing hard to nowhere.

Old Friends began trying to retire Johannesburg Smile in early 2017. It’s a long, frustrating story, so I’ll fast forward to June, and his drastic drop into a $4,000 race. But for Johannesburg Smile this became a stroke of luck when Old Friends was contacted by Ginny O’Malley. Turns out other folks had also noticed this horse’s situation. Better yet, they backed their concern with positive help.

So on June 14th, Johannesburg Smile ran his $4,000 race. He no longer had it in him to win even this, but thanks to the teamwork of more than a dozen people, he won a secure retirement. Ron Paolucci of Loooch Racing Stables, Inc. claimed him on our behalf, Ginny cared for him at her farm, then personally trailered him down to Old Friends in Georgetown (Your visit was fun, Ginny. Come back and see him soon!). I’ve seen Facebook posts mentioning more than a dozen people who helped, and I’m aware of still others. If you’re among them, I hope you’ll understand when I don’t attempt a list for fear of leaving out some deserving people. All of you, please accept Old Friends’ heart-felt thanks for your part in getting the job done at last. And please, come visit Johannesburg Smile so we can thank you in person!

2017 0811-1 JS grazing

The good life. Photo by Laura Battles.

In fact, everybody reading this post, you’ll love meeting this hard worker who gave his all, as much when he was a low level claimer as when he was in his prime. Of course, at 10 he’s hardly a senior resident at Old Friends. In fact, some of us call him Junior. Or Johan Junior, because he looks so much like his dad, Johannesburg. When he first arrived he was angry. He thought that after his wonderful weeks with Ginny he was back at a track. He looked us right in the eyes and told us exactly what he felt about that—loudly.

2017 0811 JS What kinda race track is this

Arrival day. He looks at his new world. “What kinda race track is this?”

But he soon figured out there’s no race track on the farm. He’s so smart, playful and kind that the barn staff and tour guides are already in love with this resourceful charmer. You will be too, when you meet him.


2017 0811-1 JS face

He’s got a reason to smile. Photo by Laura Battles.






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