A New Friend at Old Friends

It's a little before 6 a.m. Although the sun is beginning to rise back home, Lexington, Ky. is still dark.

Outside my window at Old Friends, there is a sprawling network of paddocks, housing a number of top-class stakes winners and champions and some not not-so-well-known horses.

My host, Michael Blowen, still bubbling with the unbridled enthusiasm of a school boy over the imminent arrival next week of Lava Man, will be up and about shortly, ready to take care of business at Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm, located between Lexington and Georgetown.

Did I say business? Forget that. Although, there obviously is business involved taking care of an extensive operation such as Old Friends, to Blowen, he has chased his own dream and is now living it. Every moment with his horses is pure joy, whether it is giving a tour armed with a bag of carrots and his wife Diane with a box of ginger snap cookies, racing Will's Way and Awad along their paddock fence (the only time he wins is when they let him), playing soccer with his Shetland/miniature horse named Silver Charm (a slaughter house survivor), having Sunshine Forever nod in the affirmative at his questions, or getting the 25-year-old Ogygian to rare up like a frisky youngster. He talks to each horse like he would one of his many cats, and they all seem to respond to him. You may get the point by now that this Dr. Dolittle of the equine set has a unqiue way with horses, and all animals for that matter.

Blowen has nursed many horses back to health after an injury or mistreatment, and he has as much affection for the old beat-up claimers as he does his graded stakes winners and champions.

For all you Lava Man fans out there, this is the environment to where your hero is headed. If any of you have any concerns or apprehension about the horse leaving California for the Bluegrass state, I can alleviate them by stating emphatically that Lava Man is headed to a wonderful life and a great number of new friends, both human and equine. He will be cared for, not only as a horse, but as a family member. Many of the horses residing at Old Friends have bonded with each other, and all 30 of them have bonded with Blowen, who gets particular joy in watching old rivals Kiri's Clown and Awad (one-two in the Sword Dancer Stakes) racing each other.

Each "stallion" has his own spacious paddock, as large as any paddock at the major breeding farms. The geldings frolic about in their own sprawling field, as do the few mares, including Bonnie's Poker, dam of the "real" Silver Charm. Just hearing the sound of Blowen's voice calling them (usually by nickname or shortened version), the horses will raise their head and amble over to the fence to see their friend.

Blowen's charm and boyish enthusiasm have endeared him to many celebrities. On his specially made "Old Friends" wine bottles are drawings sketched for him by Jack Nicholson, Angelica Huston, and Albert Brooks. Next to them is a bust of the Maltese Falcon, given to him by the film's director John Huston, made from a mold of the original falcon that was used in the film. Also in the guest house is a vast collection of racing books and memorabilia, including a newly acquired Forego halter, which will go in the new museum Blowen is planning.

I am about to head down to breakfast now and then partake in more magical moments at Old Friends, but I thought I'd take a minute out to assure all you Lava Man fans that this horse haven that Blowen has built is a home worthy of a star of his stature. Judging from the number of e-mails and phone calls Blowen has received already there will be a steady stream of visitors to see Lava Man. And judging from what I've seen, those visitors are in for a quite a show. And so is Lava Man.

For more on Old Friends, view HRTV's Inside Information Episode about the facility. 


Leave a Comment:


Thanks for this wonderful piece, Steve.  I've been a supporter of Old Friends for several years and have visited a few times and can attest to the enthusiasm of Blowen and the whole staff. Even my non-racefan husband was taken with the place.  If you get the chance to visit - GO!  And even if you can't, please call and make a donation.  They will welcome your call in the same manner whether you're giving them $50 or $500.  I can't wait to meet Lava Man when I visit in October.  

10 Sep 2008 9:36 AM
karen russo

sounds like he'll have a great loving life which he should for a king that he is

10 Sep 2008 9:50 AM
Blue Blue Sea

Thanks for writing about Old Friends. It's a wonderful organization, and you're correct, Lava Man has landed in the lap of luxury.

10 Sep 2008 10:08 AM

I visited Old Friends in May, what a wonderful place! It's just as you described.  I can't wait to visit again and see Lava Man and friends!

10 Sep 2008 10:28 AM

Steve, that's quite a stable Mr. B has assembled.  It warms my heart to know there are people like him that love these old warriors.  Wonderful story.

10 Sep 2008 10:29 AM

I have seen this love affair for our retired friends grow from the first email...wonderful, wonderful.

10 Sep 2008 10:53 AM

Wonderful! It is a beautiful place as I have visited twice. I applaud Michael for his commitment and I plan to see Lava Man there next year!

10 Sep 2008 10:57 AM
Windy City

God bless Michael and I wish him many healthy years of enjoying his lucky horses

10 Sep 2008 11:01 AM
s lee

Michael Blowen and his "gang" are passionately in love with these friends of theirs, who just happen to have 4 legs instead of 2.

CelticCirce is right - the folks at Old Friends will welcome your donation no matter what the amount or form - go to their web site and you can see that besides cash, you can sponsor a paddock or a run-in shed or buy a shirt with their logo.  I send them money and "Pony Pops" when I can, and I only wish that when I'm turned out to pasture, I should be as loved!

10 Sep 2008 11:03 AM
Monica V


Thanks for the article on Lava Man and Old Friends.  There is such a great need for places like Old Friends for so many horses who cannot breed and can no longer race.  What a wonderful place and a wonderful way for retired horses to live out the rest of their days.

God bless those wonderful people for their love and care of those horses.

10 Sep 2008 11:14 AM

hi, steve great article i hope lava man enjoy his days at old friends, i saw you at the travers. you were in the paddock to far from where i was standing so i couldn't get to you to great you and take a picture, i have two questions for you have your heard anything on blackberry road and do you know where is pyro racing next, you think they'll taking to the jockey club gold cup. thank you.

10 Sep 2008 11:42 AM

We're about to board up here in prep for Ike, so reading your column was one of my last moments of leisure. Thank you for again highlighting one of my favorite horses and lightening my day.

Lava Man has been a favorite simply because he was such a hard trier. One of the best things about him going to Old Friends is that he is going to lend his celebrity to bring new attention (and funds) to a worthy organization. I hope to make my way to Kentucky and give him a visit.

10 Sep 2008 1:29 PM
Kelly E.

Thanks for sharing Steve!  I have the highest respect for Old Friends and Mr. Blowen.  They are true treasures of the Bluegrass.  I hope to visit Lava Man and his friends next year.  

What a perfect ending for Lava Man after such an amazing story of rising from the claiming ranks to a multi-millionaire!  That's what racing is about, folks.

10 Sep 2008 3:23 PM



10 Sep 2008 3:33 PM

We were there in May and it was one of the great pleasures of my life to meet so many wonderful old warriors and pay respects at the graves of others I had loved in their heyday.  I loved them all, but meeting Bonnie and meeting Fortunate Prospect (sire of one of our mares), was really special.  I wish I lived next door, instead of 2000 miles away.  I'm so happy Lava Man will be given such a wonderful retirement!  He so deserves it!  Thank you to Michael Blowen and all he does for "our" horses.

10 Sep 2008 6:00 PM

Great Blogg! I hope we have farms like this open up in the near future. Racing should take care of their own. I hope one day Evening Attire and Hotstuffandthensome get there to enjoy the life they deserve.

10 Sep 2008 7:21 PM

I saw Lava Man race many times in California including his last race.  I have been a fan for several years and tried not to miss any of his races.  We will be making a trip to KY next spring and look forward to visiting him at Old Friends.

10 Sep 2008 7:22 PM
Pat and Family in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada

Hi Steve: We're so glad that you have had an opportunity to stay at Old Friends. We plan to do just that in 2010 while taking in the World Equestrian Games at KHP. When I retire, I hope to spend some winter months in KY and hope that I can put some of my 30yrs horse experience to work by volunteering at Old Friends with Michael Blowen, his wife Diane and all of their volunteers. Like you, Michael answers everyone's email, even for just a short reply. He seems to be a gentleman, and a gentle man, just what horses need. How exciting to know that Lava Man will join so many wonderful champions of the past, and live out his life, deservedly so, with such a fine man and all of the caretakers at Old Friends. Thank you so much for this piece. You have pleased a lot of people!

10 Sep 2008 7:28 PM

Another great story!  Michael truly IS passionate about the horses and seeing him in person interacting with the horses is quite entertaining.  

We visited Old Friends about two summers ago and I had no idea that Bonnie's Poker was there.  She was standing comfortably in the shade and wouldn't even look our way.  I asked Michael if we could get a closer look at her and he gladly went in her paddock and led her over to the fence.  What a treat to see such a grand old lady!

I can' wait to go back to see one of my fave horses, Affirmed Success.  He loves mints and I'm sure he get more than enough at Old Friends.  

Thank you Michael for all you do!

10 Sep 2008 7:39 PM

Steve, it's a beautiful place, huh?

Love it there.

Pat in Manitoba, only a Canadian would spend winters in KY brrr. That's the only thing I worry about with Lava Man, that and the tornadoes. Our guy is used to the sun and surf in SoCal.

10 Sep 2008 9:03 PM

Wow!! How cool is this? My favorite writer is reporting from my favorite horse place in the whole world. I have been visiting Old Friends since the first year when there were only two horses, living on someone else's farm. What Michael has done since than is just absolutely amazing. Thanks Steve for capturing the spirit of the whole farm. I feel sorry for anyone that doesn't include Old Friends in their Kentucky visit. Lava Man is in for a real treat!!!

10 Sep 2008 9:15 PM

Nothing is too good for Lava Man.  Your story makes a lot of anxious fans rest easy. Sounds like Lava Man will do the same. Thanks for the report.

10 Sep 2008 9:47 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks all for your wonderful comments. As you can see I am as taken with Old Friends as are all of you who have been here. Michael is one of the nicest, most hospitable and compassionate people I've ever met. He was born to do this. Josue, I'm sorry I didnt get a chance to meet you. Hopefully, some other time. I will find out about Blackberry Road when I return. With Curlin going in the JC Gold Cup, you can be sure Pyro will not run there. I believe he may be pointing for the Super Derby, but will try to find out for sure on that as well.

10 Sep 2008 9:50 PM
Steve Haskin

Tiznowbaby, thank you so much for your comment with Ike bearing down on you. I'm happy to provide you with that last moment of leisure and wish you all the best to come out of it safely.

10 Sep 2008 9:56 PM
Matthew W

Steve, thanks so much for your apreciation of how special a horse was Lava Man! He had a three year run of gutsy performance after gutsy performane! He belongs in Kentucky, just as Tiznow belongs in Kentucky, California proudly gives It's best back to The Sport Of Kings! Where they belong: Kentucky! Where Sunday Silence, The best son of Halo, Whittingham's greatest horse, belonged: Kentucky!

10 Sep 2008 10:08 PM

Steve, as a race fan and consumate horse lover I depend sooo much on information only you can provide.

I am planning my trip to Old Friends right now.

Oh, I also think you are sexy, cool!

10 Sep 2008 11:30 PM

Lava Man finally WON outside California when he gets to "Mike's Place" in Kentucky...Long Live Lava Man!!!

11 Sep 2008 12:21 AM

I'm guessing you'll be there through the 16th Steve? Thanks so much for this first hand report. Michael is living a dream down there, such a joyous and rewarding life he and Diane, Viv and the rest of the staff have!! Tney are simply the BEST!! Can't wait til Spring to go see everyone!!

11 Sep 2008 2:36 AM

I've never been to Old Friends, but it sounds like an amazing place. In all the stories reporting on the horses and Mr. Blowen, I've never seen the answer to my primary question: Do these horses get taken out for rides, and is Mr. Blowen the one who gets to do it?

11 Sep 2008 9:45 AM


Thanks for the wonderful piece. It truly conveys the sights and sounds at Dream Chase Farm. As long-time supporters of Old Friends, we know there is nothing like waking up in the morning and seeing Sunshine and Swannie out the window from the B & B. Old Friends is truly Heaven on earth to anyone who loves these horses. As I have said to Michael and Diane before, we are in their debt for their service to these deserving, wonderful old souls. Can't wait to meet Lava Man. Thank you again for sharing your perspective.  

11 Sep 2008 10:01 AM

I will be in Lexington Oct. 3rd and called Old Friends for and appt., hoping to see Lava Man but the lady who answered the phone said he might not be ready to be shown. So if your planning on going first the first week in October he might not be acclimated yet.

11 Sep 2008 10:07 AM

Bradgm: If you ever spent a winter in Winnipeg or there abouts,you would think Kentucky in winter would be paradise. I think the

"The Man" would be smart enough to grow a winter coat. Don't tell me that horses don't grow hair in N Cal in the winter! Man you got to get out more, see some snow etc.

11 Sep 2008 10:51 AM

for FSF--no riding for the Old Friends.  They are retired, after all.  Their only "job" is hamming it up for visitors!

for bradgm--Tornados not that big a problem in central KY, especially compared to parts of the midwest. Not much snow here, either. And the horses LOVE the cooler, even cold, weather.  

11 Sep 2008 1:26 PM

FSF - just to jump in, hope you all don't mind...the horses at OF are not normally ridden. They are truly retired to enjoy their leisure time and the attention they get from all the wonderful visitors! Seabiscuit star Popcorn Deelites did occasionally get tacked up for appearances when he first came to Old Friends but now he gets his exercise from playing with Special Ring his pasture buddy. Overall, they are as active as their individual age and condition allow. Many of them do enjoy racing Michael on foot along the fenceline. What a fun sight! It's great to hear everyone support Old Friends! :)

11 Sep 2008 1:50 PM
Ellen Z, Denver, CO

Dear Steve,

Thank you for writing about Lava Man's new home at Old Friends, an incredible place and a necessary one for our retired equine champions.  I can't think of a better place for this great horse...the tears I shed after watching his last race have been replaced by joy that he will have a wonderful life there with the Blowens and the entire staff...

11 Sep 2008 1:58 PM

Cudos to those who can live out their dreams in the service of others, especially animals who can't help themselves, and to those who have enough people who will support those dreams.

This is true for Carol Buckley who started The Elephant Sancturary in TN [elephants.com] for old, needy circus and zoo elephants on 3,000 acres with an elecam so everyone in the world can watch them enjoy their freedom.  Now there are big time feeding chores in state of the art barns IF the elephants want to come in during the winter.

Like the Elephant Sanctuary and Old Friends, it is wonderful to see such support for the animals who work for our enjoyment, some of whom suffer terribly for it.  To give them respite in their later years has to be pleasing to the God who created us all.

Happy Pampering, Lava Man

11 Sep 2008 2:27 PM
Don V

Thanks, Steve, for a wonderful blog!!!

For all of Lava Man's fans I would like to relate to you the kind of man, Michael Blowen is, and how fortunate Lava Man will be in his care.

I have been a supporter of Old Friends for several years now, and decided to support a particular retiree, named Leave Seattle, who is a son of the great Seattle Slew.  I feel in love with him during one of my visits several years ago.  This past April, I went to visit Old Friends and to spend some time with Leave Seattle, but he had been moved to another farm in another town on a temporary basis.  Michael, who knew I was visiting, stopped his work for that morning and drove my companion and I for 15 minutes so I could personally visit Leave Seattle and spend about 30 minutes with him.  I was so impressed and moved by his kindness and generosity!!!  But this is the classy and selfless man Michael Blowen is!!!   He and his wife are generous and in love with their horses and it shows.

Fans and friends of Lava Man should send donations to Old Friends in honor of their racing idol, because the farm sure could use the funds!  Lava Man, his new equine pals, and staff will be happily awaiting your visits, and this farm needs to be on your "places to Visit" list.

Thank God for Michael and Old Friends!

11 Sep 2008 5:26 PM


That's why I said only somebody from Canada would winter in Ky. I've been to BC, Quebec, Calgary etc in late spring, early summer and then for a month in July/August that was cold enough. Also Alaska for a few weeks. I go to Tahoe in the winter (summer too and Fall), been to Aspen, Vail, Taos, Purgatory (the one in Durango but the other one a few times on these blogs) etc. My gran is from Colorado and one relative lives in Estes Park so I know the cold, fine for skiing/snow boarding. It gets colder in NoCal but SoCal is never super cold, hey come for the Breeders Cup it was down right hot here last time, Jordy will teach you to surf I bet, Steve declined the surfing lessons. The horses never really grow much of a winter coat, of course at the track don't think I've seen any. The scary thing is the tornado season. Been in a few of those in North Dakota, Kansas and this little town out on the Colo plains has been wiped out twice, my Gran's hometown. Don't want to have the Man telling Toto they aren't in KY anymore.


You doing the sales scene or just the Old Friends?

11 Sep 2008 8:52 PM

Thanks, Mr. Haskin, for a splendid report on Old Friends--You captured Michael Blowen perfectly--Dr. Doolittle of the retired thoroughbred set!  It is a beautiful place!

11 Sep 2008 10:15 PM

I have known about Old Friends for a while now, but I didnt know that a fan could visit and see such wonderful racehorses. Lava Man is one of my favorites, and I look forward to visiting him and the other "champs" at Old Friends.

12 Sep 2008 3:42 AM
Steve Haskin

Gammy, I thank you for that last line, but are you sure you have the right person? :)

Thanks again for all the supportive comments about Old Friends and Lava Man. They are well deserved.

12 Sep 2008 10:36 AM

Bradgm: Make you a deal. I'll tell you if I ever show up in your hood and the same goes for you showing up in mine.

Steve: Just saw the magazine article on Old Friends in People magazine. I could care less about the human "stars" but it's  exposure for this great cause.

12 Sep 2008 1:01 PM

Anybody who had something given to them by John Huston is a cool dude. I've never gotten to go there, unlike my friends. But, Steve, just like your descriptions of Saratoga I can almost look out the window and see it.

Not that you're my type, but maybe gammy thinks someone who can write with poetry in their descriptions is sexier than the handsomest movie star. Like they say, beauty is only skin deep and is in the eye of the beholder. Words touch the soul.

12 Sep 2008 5:42 PM

I love to hear about this. I just wish there were hundreds more just like Old Friends to help all the other horses. We are moving in the right direction and hopefully some big changes will be made.

Bradgm: Lava Man will grow a winter coat. They seem to be incredibly adaptable to their environment. It does take some time though. My guy took about 3 years to really get a good coat to survive in our winters. He had some trouble at first but he gets a thicker coat than the rest now. I live in North Dakota. The winters are brutal..... I mean brutal.....

Thanks Steve for the brilliantly written article. How did this industry get so lucky to land you? Must have been your love for the horses. Otherwise you could be writing for anyone you wanted. I've seen your video's too. Matt Lauer better watch out.

12 Sep 2008 8:40 PM

JordanA: you hit the nail on the head.

Steve: I second gammy's sexy,cool comment. This has nothing to do with being the most handsomist movie star in the world. This has everything to do with the depth of your writing. Your ability to capture a moment in time and add your passion for these horses and this industry. Thats what it's all about. You have a gift and its the fans like myself who live a world away that get to go to these places everyday through your eyes.  That, Steve is what makes you sexy, cool. Redford has nothing on you. Hey, I bet you would be a heck of a song writer. Have you ever written any poetry or song lyrics?

12 Sep 2008 8:52 PM

Tiznowbaby: Hope all is well with you. Keep us posted. Your online bloggers are concerned.

12 Sep 2008 8:57 PM
Steve Haskin

Jordan and Karen, I truly appreciate your comments, even if I'm not Jordan's type :). I feel extremely privileged and fortunate to be able to write about what I love, and my only goal is to share that and have as many people as possible see and feel what I feel, especially when they are located in a town or city that makes that difficult. When readers say they feel as if they're there (whether it be at Churchill Downs for the Derby or at Old Friends) that is the greatest compliment I can receive -- much more than any award. Karen, as far as songs or poetry, I have not written any songs, because I can't sing anything but doo wop and wouldn't know what to do with them. But I have written a number of poems to my wife and daughter about special moments in our lives that can only be conveyed in poetry, which allows you to reach much farther down into your soul.

12 Sep 2008 10:11 PM


I admit I'm a little shallow, I'm 25 and like the California girls. I'm studying up on your writing, getting tips on how to become soulful. For when my looks fade ya know. Bet your wife and daughter love the poetry.

13 Sep 2008 12:14 AM

Steve and Karen2, thank you for your concern. All is well. A low steered the storm a bit north and we came through very well. I am hoping for the best for my fellow Texans who were not so fortunate.

13 Sep 2008 1:28 PM

Steve: Great article; where did he get that Forego halter? I would've outbid him for it. See you out at Belomont on the big day (9/27). Want anything from Avenue T?

13 Sep 2008 1:36 PM

mr.haskins... i read your article

about big brown.. you said there

was an upsetting incident in the

holding barn to big brown... what

was it and could it explain his

behavior in the belmont?

13 Sep 2008 6:52 PM
Steve Haskin

Johnny, what a pleasant surprise? We have to meet at Ave. T. one day. We owe you for all those great lunches. But meanwhile, now that you mention it, a few knishes would hit the spot and a pastrami for my wife.

Michael told me where he got the halter, but I  couldn't quite understand him. I'll find out, but it was a gist anyway...no bidding, so you would have been out of luck anyway.

13 Sep 2008 8:29 PM

Don V -

I'm thrilled to hear Leave Seattle has another supporter at Old Friends. He is my boy too! I have followed the paths of all of the Slew kids, and I remember Leave Seattle from his days as a Massachusetts stallion. He is as deserving of a pampered retirement as all of the superstars. Old Friends is also home to Seattle Slew's son Williamstown. Thanks from another Seattle Slew fan.  

13 Sep 2008 10:16 PM

I post this tonight with a heavy,heavy heart. My beloved Gally (adopted from the TRF 5 years ago)died in the pasture last night. I don't know the cause. No visible wounds. He was only 11. I still can't believe it. He was a picture of health. The last image I have of him was him running through the pasture with the yearlings.. his mane blowing in the wind. He was a sight to see. I was always so awestruck by his beauty and grace. He was a loving, gentle soul and I loved him very much. He went back to the great war admiral and I was proud to take care of him. RIP baby boy. I love you so much.

Tiznowbaby: Im so glad you are o.k.- I am praying for those in Texas. What a disaster.

13 Sep 2008 11:18 PM

Hey Karen, Sorry to hear about your loss, you seem to care a great deal.

Actually Brad is a friend of mine and he does know a lot about horses, he knows they grow a winter coat. We have a lot of friends who are race trackers, especially him. Being a horse lover I'm sure you know how we feel. We're glad the Man is going to a good home, but on the other hand we'd like to have him around. We aren't just gamblers who have no feelings, not the norm I guess.

14 Sep 2008 9:40 AM
Steve Haskin

Karen, so sorry for your loss.

nmh, Big Brown had been wound up too tight the week before the Belmont and he just lost it in the holding barn, acting up and getting agitated. Many times, agitated horses will not like the hectic  atmosphere of ther holding barn. It just gets them more on edge.

14 Sep 2008 11:37 AM
Jim Ponte/Phoenix

Steve: Great Article on Old Friends I have visited this magical farm several times.

Recently took my wife,stayed at the B&B,brought mints and carrots for the horses. It is a life changing experience....you don't want to leave...but I'll be back soon.

15 Sep 2008 8:08 PM

Steve, Is Lava Man arriving today or did I get the date wrong?

If you are there to greet him tell him HELLO from all his surfer buddies who believed in him from the first time they saw him. If not maybe Michael will give him a special hello from the Cal connection.

16 Sep 2008 10:39 AM
Steve Haskin

Brad, Lava Man's owners and Santa Anita have agreed to parade him in front of the fans at the Breeders' Cup, so his trip has been postponed until then. He should be coming immediately after the BC.

16 Sep 2008 1:56 PM

I am so glad Steve Kenley decided to postpone his trip into the Hurricane zone (Steve is the man)!!!  I was so worried all today, and I did not know where to turn.  Thank you Steve for informing us; I was losing my marbles worried about his trip.  Well, now I am going to have to attend the BC, with my camera!!!!!  Hope to see you there Steve.

16 Sep 2008 4:00 PM

Steve, I'll be there. It doesn't bother me as much as it does my friend Jordy to see them in that setting. He doesn't like to see them paraded around, not quite as shallow as he claims. I think it will be good to see him one last time at the track. Thanks so much.

16 Sep 2008 4:42 PM

Great to be honored in the Hall of Fame at The Kentucky Horse Park but I would just as soon be romping with Michael and all my FRIENDS at Dream Chase.  All here are fine BUT, Michael Blowen is a king for retired horses.  Even Barclay and Robin would prefer I be at Old Friends because Michael would provide my favorite mints.

07 Dec 2009 8:35 PM

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