Paddock Pals and Other Old Friends

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Because of the pandemic my usual visits to Old Friends have been curtailed and I haven’t even had a work-related reason to visit the original Georgetown, Ky. farm in some time.

Believe me, I usually find reasons to visit the farm and its impressive roster of horses.

So I found a bounce in my step when a recent winter Friday presented a great opportunity for a visit and to catch up on some of the stories going on at Old Friends with the Thoroughbred retirement farm’s founder Michael Blowen. The day already was a bit of a first as I’d never been to the farm with snow on the ground. Fortunately temperatures had improved to the level of being tolerable, allowing for an amazing setting of rolling hills covered in white.

As usual, I arrived early. After parking by the visitor’s center, I started to walk on the path toward the barn. As I walked, Nicanor made his way across the field to pay a visit. I didn’t recall Barbaro’s full brother previously visiting me so I was a bit surprised and ventured to the fence to greet him. After a few moments, I headed back to the path.

Next up would be my favorite Old Friends resident, Game On Dude. As usual, the eight-time grade 1 winner hustled from the middle of the field to see me. But I wasn’t sure who his paddock pal was joining him on the run. I looked at the bridle of his new friend to discover it was 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T) winner Little Mike. I let Game On Dude know that I had again nominated him to the Racing Hall of Fame. He seemed pleased and ever-patient.

I walked up to the barn and didn’t see Michael. Soon a text showed up on my phone explaining he’d be a little late. No need for an apology, as there is plenty to do. I headed over to see Silver Charm, who also made his way to the fence. I thought, maybe with a decline in visitors this year because of COVID-19 restrictions, all of the horses were glad to see me today. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Silver Charm’s coat doesn’t show his age a bit. But incredibly, his personality and sharp mind haven’t changed. Later in the day, Michael would show me that the 27-year-old dual classic winner still gets around great.

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In this video, I love how initially Silver Charm’s head is almost camouflaged, only to emerge as he gallops to the fence. Silver Charm won the first Kentucky Derby (G1) I ever attended in person. So to be able to see him to this day is such a blessing.

After Michael arrives, we visit Old Friends’ newest arrival, Bellamy Road. As we make our way over, the big son of Concerto who turned the 2005 Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) into a virtual walkover, has set up shop on the highest corner of his paddock, looking over the snow-covered, fence-lined paddocks beyond like Simba on that cliff in The Lion King.

Next we check in with a couple of horses I’ve written stories about since their arrival at Old Friends in Green Mask and Alphabet Soup. Both are doing well. I let Green Mask know that turf sprints are my favorite races to wager. He seems impressed with my taste in races.

Another turf sprinter awaits. In these COVID days where it’s been difficult to stay in touch with human friends, Michael shared with me the story of 2018 champion turf male Stormy Liberal, who has settled in after finding a friend in Patch.

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A theme of equine friendships would emerge on this day. It’s been so long since I’ve visited that I haven’t even seen Birdstone. I was in the press box on that strangest of Belmont Stakes (G1) days when Birdstone reminded everyone of his class—even if it disappointed many as he halted the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones. He would prove winning the year’s third classic was no fluke when in the summer he overwhelmed six rivals in the Travers Stakes (G1). Amazingly, Blowen believes Birdstone has recognized a true old friend in former Nick Zito stablemate Sun King. The two have adjoining paddocks and one day Blowen noticed Birdstone mirroring Sun King.

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Get this, Sun King doesn’t like the rain! That’s just perfect. Michael wraps up the story of the new old friends for us and our visit on this day.

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