Winner’s Circle: A Long Goodbye

Clever Allemont spent much of his later years lying in the thick Kentucky bluegrass, basking in the sun.

Horses spend most of their time standing, even sleeping, so passers-by would often stop at the office to warn Old Friends founder Michael Blowen: “You have a dead horse in this pasture.

Blowen was shaking his head and heading for the paddock.

As he approached, Clever shook his ear as if to say, “I’m still here.” Now let me enjoy my retirement.

Clever Allemont passed away in 2014 after spending the last five years of his life at Old Friends, a leading “follow-up” farm for retired thoroughbred racehorses. The farm is located near Georgetown, Ky.

During his time at Old Friends, Clever was a fan favorite. His popularity did not come from his friendly personality and illustrious career – compared to many millionaire Old Friends residents, Clever’s $ 316,329 lifetime earnings were pocket money – but because of the story that brought him back to Kentucky.

In December 2008, a Kansas woman rescued a lean, deaf, one-eyed horse from a “slaughter pen” near Emporia, just as it was about to be sent to slaughter in Mexico. . He was identified by a tattoo on his lips as Clever Allemont, winner of the Southwest Stakes and Rebel Stakes in 1985. He was trained by icons Lynn Whiting and later by D. Wayne Lucas.

The woman contacted the media and thoroughbred rescue groups online. A global fundraising campaign paid the cost to send it to Old Friends.

THEN reporter for The Ottawa Herald, I met Clever on a farm near Williamsburg, where he was waiting to start his new adventure. It has become a national story and one of my favorites.

I interviewed Blowen by phone and learned of the efforts to give former racehorses like Clever the dignified retirement they deserve.

Recording journalist Vickie Moss visits Clever Allemont’s grave. Courtesy photo

I wanted to visit Clever in his new home, but never got the chance.

On June 14, almost 12 years later, I arrived at Old Friends.

Blowen offered a private tour, escorting me around the farm on a golf cart. He introduced me to the majestic residents and told me about his efforts to establish the non-profit farm and the challenge of maintaining it.

“BLACK The “Stallion” book series inspired my love for horses in my youth.

Every year after the Kentucky Derby, I cut out the winner’s photo from the Kansas City Star Sports Pages and put it on my bedroom wall.

In 1986, Derby winner Ferdinand took his place in history and on my wall.

In 2002, it was reported that Ferdinand had been sent to slaughter in Japan. Horse racing fans were outraged.

The truth began to emerge from what had been a dark secret in the horse racing industry.

Old Friends founder Michael Blowen gives carrots to Birdstone, the 2004 Belmont Stakes winner who ruined Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown hopes.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

In other words, a racehorse is a commodity. After completing this last run on the track, it could be used for breeding and then discarded.

Thoroughbreds, especially those bred and trained to race, tend to be nervous and finicky. It takes time to move from the track to another kind of life. It is even more difficult for the stallions.

It is not easy to find them a new home.

Not everyone in the industry treats horses so harshly.

Over the past two decades, many organizations have started to educate the public about the importance of finding responsible homes for these animals once they leave the track or barn.

This is how Blowen created Old Friends.

Blowen, a former reporter and film critic for the Boston Globe, was not part of the horse racing industry except as a gamer. He loved to go to the track and bet on ponies.

Michael Blowen, founder of Old Friends, gives a carrot to Nicanor, full brother of the late Barbaro. Photo by Vickie Moss

He thought it would help if he learned more about horses. Turns out that only made matters worse. He started to care about animals and what happened to them.

He told his wife, columnist Diane White, that he wanted to move to Kentucky and start a home for retired racehorses.

Old Friends started in 2003.

“It was harder than I thought,” Blowen told me. “I thought everyone would welcome this with open arms. And some of them did and were very helpful.

“Tracking is no longer a big secret. It’s something to be proud of. The small part we played there was great.

The farm has grown to over 236 acres, over 230 horsepower and two satellite locations.

“I would have been intimidated if someone had told me that I would eventually have 200 horsepower. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to start, ”he said.

Fans come from all over the world to visit their favorite racehorses. Owners, trainers and jockeys visit their old horses.

“They’re all different people” who visit Old Friends, Blowen said. “Either they like horses, or they like the idea, or they are horse players. Some owners and trainers really appreciate what these horses have done for them, and others don’t care. It is a kind of microcosm of life in general.

According to their stats, Old Friends has three Kentucky Derby winners, three Preakness Stakes winners and three Belmont Stakes winners. Eight horses were repatriated from abroad. Five have only one functional eye.

Horses eat 250-300 pounds. carrots per week.

The collective income of Old Friends retirees, living and deceased, is $ 1,495,395,336.

The non-profit establishment is supported by donations and fundraising.

Blowen said many vets are donating their services.

Donations can be sent to Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement, 1841 Paynes Depot Rd., Georgetown, KY 40324.

Old Friends founder Michael Blowen gives journalist Vickie Moss a tour of the farm.Courtesy photo

As my Old Friends tour began, Nicanor walked over to the enclosure fence to greet us.

He’s one of the cutest residents in Old Friends history, Blowen said. Like a real star, he tilts his head for selfies with guests.

He is also the full brother of Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, who broke his leg two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes. Considerable efforts failed to save him and Barbaro was euthanized about eight months later.

His story captivated fans of racing and not. Once again, the public learned more about the realities of horse racing and the heartbreaking fragility of animals raised to give their all on racetracks.

Nicanor never achieved the success of his famous brother, but he is a star at Old Friends. He was sent to Old Friends at the behest of Gretchen Jackson, who raised, raced, and owned both Nicanor and Barbaro with her husband, Roy.

In the paddock next to Nicanor, we visited multimillionaire best friends Little Mike and Game On Dude. Between them, they won over $ 10 million. And even though Game On Dude has made twice as much money on the track, Little Mike is the big boss, Blowen said.

Opposite, we met Birdstone, the 36-1 winner of the 2004 Belmont Stakes. His momentum to the finish line shattered Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown hopes.

Blowen hopes to bring Smarty Jones to the farm, bringing together two fierce competitors.

Old Friends have a few Triple Crown spoilers on hand, associated with their main rival.

Sarava ended hopes for the War Emblems crown in the Belmont Stakes in 2002. The two reunited at Old Friends (the surly but beloved War Emblem passed away in March 2020).

Touch Gold won the Belmont Stakes in 1997, crushing the Triple Crown dream for Silver Charm. They met at Old Friends.

Despite these classic matches, the horses don’t seem to care.

“Horses don’t hold a grudge,” Blowen said.

SILVER Charm is in the spotlight at Old Friends.

He’s an iconic superstar who made nearly $ 7 million and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2007 – and he’s Blowen’s favorite.

In fact, Silver Charm occupies a pasture a short walk from Blowen’s house. Blowen begins each morning with a greeting from the old gray gentleman across the fence.

Nearby, we stopped at a well-maintained cemetery. When the residents of Old Friends die, they are cremated and buried in a semicircle of honor.

Blowen told me that even horses participate in some sort of funeral ritual. When they euthanize a horse at Old Friends, they try to do it in the field. Other horses will gather around their fallen comrade to say goodbye.

It should be noted that Blowen not only keeps his favorite horse close at hand, but also everyone who has come before him.

We stopped so I could visit Clever Allemont’s final resting place and pay tribute to him.

Patch, another one-eyed and fan-favorite racehorse, watched in the background.

And with that, our story came full circle.

About Paul Cox

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