KONZ | Breeders' Cup fans reunite with former racehorses at Old - WDRB 41 Louisville News

KONZ | Breeders' Cup fans reunite with former racehorses at Old Friends Farm

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Visitors to Old Friends visit with Game On Dude and Star Spangled Heat (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News) Visitors to Old Friends visit with Game On Dude and Star Spangled Heat (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News)
Michael Blowen, founder and president of Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Ky. (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News) Michael Blowen, founder and president of Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Ky. (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News)
Genuine Reward poses at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Ky. (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News) Genuine Reward poses at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Ky. (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News)
Popcorn DeeLite at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Ky. (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News) Popcorn DeeLite at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Ky. (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News)
"I want them to come here and have fun. And on top of that, if they learn about thoroughbred racing and racing fans, that's even better," Michael Blowen, founder and president of Old Friends Farm (WDRB News photo) "I want them to come here and have fun. And on top of that, if they learn about thoroughbred racing and racing fans, that's even better," Michael Blowen, founder and president of Old Friends Farm (WDRB News photo)

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's a cool, crisp autumn day and Silver Charm is grazing on some alfalfa grass at the Old Friends equine retirement facility, pretending he doesn't notice the crowd of visitors approaching his paddock.

But the grayish-white Racing Hall of Fame champion and winner of the 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes sees his buddy Michael Blowen and knows they are coming to see him -- and that they are bringing carrots, his favorite snack.

"Silver Charm! Silver Charm! Who's the greatest horse in the history of the universe?" yells Blowen, a former Boston Globe movie critic who founded the non-profit organization that has turned into a popular tourist destination featuring famous retired stallions and other thoroughbred horses.

Within moments, Silver Charm looks up, almost like he's about to sprint from the starting gate at Churchill Downs or Keeneland Race Course, and races from the top of the hill to greet the group of about 50 tourists who've come from places as far away as Chile, Argentina and Japan.

"He started doing that the other day," said Cindy Grisolia, a longtime volunteer who works at Old Friends. "I think he's figured out that the bigger show he puts on, the more carrots and love he will get. He's very smart."

During its peak season from March through October, the 136-acre farm in Scott County attracts about 60 tourists a day. But with the Breeders' Cup taking place about 20 miles away at Keeneland, it is seeing a record number of visitors.

"Having Breeders' Cup in Lexington at Keeneland is so exciting, we've been deluged with visitors," Grisolia said. "We are so happy about that."

The influx of visitors is good news for the non-profit, which operates solely on grants and donations. Tours and sales from the gift shop also help defray costs. 

"It can get very expensive," said Blowen, noting that it costs about $1 million to operate the farm annually. "We are very fortunate to have a lot of services and products donated to us. Dr. Bryan Waldridge has never sent us a bill. And we absolutely love seeing all the tourists and appreciate the support they give us."

On Thursday, nearly 400 people took the hour-long tour, getting up close and personal with the likes of Silver Charm, petting the three-time Santa Anita Handicap victor Game on Dude and feeding carrots to Genuine Reward, the 22-year-old chestnut son of 1980 Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk.

"This is an amazing place," said Diego Notario, a journalist in town for the Breeders' Cup with friends Cesar Florio and Emanuel Agular from Chile. "We had a great time. To be able to get so close to these horses is amazing."

Blowen founded Old Friends in 2003 following the news that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had died in a slaughterhouse. He started with one leased paddock. Its first horse was Narrow Escape, who Blowen says was abandoned by his owner.

In 2006, it moved to its current location and was officially named Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm. It now paddocks 104 horses. And each year, it sees nearly 20,000 tourists.

Aside from Silver Charm, Game On Dude and Genuine Reward, Old Friends is also the retirement home of Popcorn Deelites - one of eight stand-ins for the Seabiscuit movie -- and his paddock mate Special Ring, an 18-year-old bay horse who likes to show off his tattoo. 

In a few days, 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner War Emblem will arrive on property -- joining Sarava, the winner of the 2002 Belmont Stakes, who retired to Old Friends in 2012.

"People are interested in celebrities, people love celebrities, " Grisolia said. "And as far as we're concerned, these horses are celebrities."

Old Friends is one of a few facilities in the country that offers straight retirement for horses either off the track or out of the breeding shed, Grisolia said.

"One of the things we feature is that you can get up close and personal with horses that won $6.5 million on the track or the Kentucky Derby," she said. "Not many people can say they fed a Derby winner, but the people who come here can say that."

Owners, trainers and jockeys are among those who frequent the farm. 

On Thursday, Kentucky Derby winning jockey Mike Smith visited for the first time. 

"I've literally been reunited with several of my old friends today," said Smith, who spent about a half hour with Game On Dude, among others. "It's something I will always remember."

The farm's mascot, Little Silver Charm, is the only non-thoroughbred on the property. He too was rescued from a one-way trip to a slaughterhouse about 16 years ago.

"We rescued him from the back of a truck near Rockingham Park in New Hampshire," Blowen said of Little Silver Charm, who has his own Facebook page with over 5,000 likes.

Blowen couldn't believe his ears when he got a call last year from from Three Chimneys Farm stallion manager Sandy Hatfield, asking him if he had room for the real Silver Charm.

"When he won Derby and Preakness, he literally saved racing in the late 1990s," Blowen said. "For some reason, I just got attached to him. Little did I think that several years later, he would live in my back yard. It's like having Larry Bird and Magic Johnson here, except it's better."

Blowen said he hopes those who visit the horses at Old Friends come away with some great memories. 

"When you vacation or visit places, you don't remember a lot of things people say -- you just remember if it was fun and if you want to come back," Blowen said. "I want them to come here and have fun. And on top of that, if they learn about thoroughbred racing and become racing fans, that's even better."

This week, Old Friends Farm is offering tours of its farm at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 31.

During the winter months, it offers one 10 a.m. tour a day, reservations are required. For more information, visit the Old Friends Farm website.

In addition, it's hosting an after Breeders' Cup celebration on Sunday, Nov. 1, which will feature live music, food and silent auctions of horse racing memorabilia. Tickets are $25 and must be purchased in advance at this website.

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2015 by WDRB News. All rights reserved. 

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