By Keith McCalmont, Triple Dead Heat
Great things can happen when a community comes together. Over the weekend, I was witness to an efficient, generous and well-intentioned quest carried forth by one horse rescuer, one bed-and-breakfast proprietor, one charitable horse owner for one lucky turfer by the name of Boule d'Or.
On July 6th, I wrote a post entitled Boule d'Or - An Old Friend I Hope Will Make It To Old Friends, on my blog Triple Dead Heat, detailing the life and times of an eight year-old horse who had just finished dead last in a $8K claiming race at Pleasanton. It was not the first time I had written about this remarkable long distance turf specialist. Previously I had covered his splendid front-running victory in the GII San Luis Rey Handicap at Santa Anita which boosted his lifetime earnings close to $600,000. Unfortunately, following that win on March 22, 2008, Boule d'Or seemed to lose his tactical speed and began to spiral down the claiming ranks switching barns twice along the way.
As Boule d'Or stock plummeted, I would handicap his races and donate my winnings (or a minimum of $20, if I lost) to the LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society. At the very least, I thought this racetrack veteran with 9 wins in close to 60 starts at tracks across the globe, might be able to raise some awareness for his fellow breed.
Boule d'Or has suffered through tough times before. He famously raced 29 consecutive starts without a victory, though he often managed to pick up some of the pieces. This most recent loss at Pleasanton had me worried as failing to bring home some feed money in a basement-level claimer marks the beginning of the end for a racehorse. For the past year I've kept an eye on my virtual stable hoping for Boule d'Or to show some signs of life - but it was becoming clear the horse was slowing down. In a July 6th blog post, I asked myself the gut-wrenching question, "...what will become of Boule d'Or if he cannot win at the $8K claiming level?"
Fortunately for Boule d'Or, Gail Hirt, a volunteer for Canter - Michigan, was reading and decided to take action. Hirt provides a home for no less than five Off Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) including the infamous Top Bunk whose story prompted the Top Bunk List which tracks horses that have earned more than $500,000 but are racing for less than $5,000.
On Saturday July 11th, I received the following email from Hirt.
I belong to a thoroughbred rescue called CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses) in Michigan. Mary Overman, a CANTER volunteer, the director of CANTER California and myself, along with the Friends of Barbaro on Alex Brown Racing message boards, watch these horses that are on or belong on the Top Bunk list. I actually now own the one and only "Top Bunk". We have been monitoring Boule d'Or's downward trend and are concerned for his welfare. Last week he ran at Pleasanton in California, which runs 11 days during the fair. He place last in his race. We are trying to find out where he is going from there. Mary has left messages for his owner I have a connection with Michael Blowen at "Old Friends" and will call him today to tell him the situation with "Boule d'Or" and see if there is anything he can do with this horse. Boule deserves to be retired somewhere where he will be safe. I just wanted you to know that, as you are, we are also concerned for this horses welfare. I will let you know what we find out. If you would like to call me, please feel free to contact me at the number below.
Ten minutes later I received a follow-up email from Gail advising she had spoken with Michael Blowen at Old Friends and could I please call her. Blowen is the proprietor of Old Friends Equine which is a retirement facility for ex-racehorses. The facility is also home to a comfy bed and breakfast.
At the same time, posts were appearing on the Alex Brown Racing message boards advising that the group of racing fans that congregate there, known collectively as the Fans of Barbaro, may need to raise some money to claim Boule d'Or off the track.
In Kentucky, the ebullient Michael Blowen was busying himself with phone calls to California trying to locate a horse that handicappers in Pleasanton were trying to forget. Fortunately, Blowen is friends with Pleasanton track announcer Frank Mirahmadi who was able to put Blowen in contact with the Treasure family, who train Boule d'Or for owner Robert Gray. Oddly, Mirahmadi and Boule d'Or have a history together as our equine hero featured in the Hasta La Vista Handicap at Turf Paradise which Miramahdi famously called using 24 different voices including Marv Albert, Marlon Brando and Andy Rooney to name a few.
Blowen was able to get in contact with Paul Treasure, father of Boule d'Or conditioner Justin Treasure, and explained the idea of providing a home for a failing racehorse. The elder Treasure had never heard of Old Friends but liked the idea enough to pass on this information to Boule's owner, Robert Gray. It must be said that Gray has not had the best of luck with this poor old horse and it would be completely understandable if the gentleman wanted to continue trying to earn back a little bit of money on the erstwhile claimer. To say Blowen was surprised by Gray's response would be a major understatement.
The generous Robert Gray not only agreed to donate Boule d'Or to Old Friends free of charge, he also agreed to donate a significant amount of money to sponsor Boule's stall at his new home in the heart of Kentucky.
I spent my Sunday at Fort Erie watching the Prince of Wales Stakes. Arriving home after a long drive through terrible traffic I was greeted with the following email from Hirt.
Sunday July 12th, 9:39PM:
Time to start blogging....WE GOT HIM!!!!!
They are donating him and some money to Old Friends. I'll be up til 11pm. Call me when you have a few.
I called Hirt who relayed the story to me of how a horse that finished dead last on July 5th at Pleasanton would soon be enjoying retirement in the company of such old friends as Ogygian, Awad and Sunshine Forever. "This boy will be retired for life," exclaimed Hirt.
In little more than a week from my hopeful blog post seeking a new beginning for Boule d'Or, the hard work of Hirt, Overman and Blowen provided a hard-knocking horse a new home. I've spent the past few days talking to friends about it and I'm still overcome with joy for a horse I've only ever watched race online. Less than two weeks from today, Boule d'Or will arrive in Kentucky to the care of Blowen and Old Friends. Hirt and Overman will make the journey from Michigan to greet the old turfer. I'm hopeful of making the trip myself.
As an epilogue to this story, Blowen called me at work on Monday afternoon to thank me for my efforts in raising awareness about Old Friends and Boule d'Or. I advised Blowen that the whole time they were working, I was busy handicapping at The Fort and had done little more than type a few kind words. Blowen thanked me nonetheless.
It is a story which knows no end of charity. Blowen went on to proclaim that when Robert Gray found out Blowen was arranging transportation funds for Boule d'Or that the ever-so-kind owner also agreed to pay to trailer the horse from California to Kentucky. Blowen has a good deal worked out with Bob Hubbard Transportation for charitable situations like this, and it's just one more positive link in a chain of horse racing community we do not hear enough about.
Horsemen care about their horses. Good horsemen take the time to go the extra step for the benefit of the horse. Robert Gray, along with Justin and Paul Treasure, deserve a great deal of respect for the care they have shown an old racing warrior.
Old Friends is currently undergoing a bit of renovation work as Blowen looks to expand his equine retirement community. More rooms are being added to the bed-and-breakfast located on site. New water works are going into the back acres and soon there will be room for a few more horses. Canadian champions Benburb and Thornfield are on their way to Old Friends and will join Boule d'Or as star attractions.
Until the construction is complete, Boule d'Or will be stalled at Crimson King Farms on Iron Works Road, just two miles from Old Friends. Boule d'Or will have a home across the street from a top local vet and will enjoy the comfort of a pasture bordered by the top stallion farms in the state. When the time comes, Boule d'Or will make one last move down the road and settle into his retirement at Old Friends Equine.
Boule d'Or has raced in four countries at thirteen racetracks. He is a GII winner with $600,000 in lifetime earnings. He went viral on Youtube thanks to the vexing voices of Frank Mirahmadi. He holds a track record at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai which will stand forever as the track is soon to be replaced. Boule d'Or has accomplished great things in his racing career, but the lovable lad legged his most important victory last by capturing the hearts of the racing community. All it took was one horse rescuer, one bed-and-breakfast proprietor, and one charitable horse owner.
Congratulations old friend, I'll see you in Kentucky.
If you would like to know more about Old Friends Equine please be sure to visit their website or book a weekend at their bed and breakfast. Details can be found online at Old Friends Equine