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Racing Rivals at Old Friends Farm

Former racing rivals enjoy retirement at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown. Kentucky Life meets some of the farm’s most famous equine residents.

Michael Blowen, former film critic for the Boston Globe, founded Old Friends in 2003 as the first retirement facility for thoroughbreds in the U.S. Since then, the bucolic farm outside of Georgetown in Scott County has served as a popular tourist destination and beacon of hope for a growing community of Thoroughbred lovers who feel that our cherished racehorses deserve a retirement befitting their accomplishments.

During the past couple of years, Old Friends has welcomed several high-profile retirees, highlighted by Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners Silver Charm and War Emblem. Their arrival from Japan completes what Blowen calls two editions of the “Old Friends Triple Crown,” as the champions have been reunited with their vanquishers in respective runnings of the Belmont Stakes: Touch Gold and Sarava.

Silver Charm’s coat is lighter than it was 19 years ago, when the Bob Baffert-trained 3-year-old captured the 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness in gritty fashion.

“Silver Charm is my favorite horse of all time,” says Blowen. “I loved the way he raced. He raced just like a really great competitor, like he really knew what he was doing.”

Silver Charm’s December 2014 arrival after stud duty in Japan was a thrill for Blowen, who credits Three Chimneys Farm stallion manager Sandy Hatfield for organizing the horse’s transfer. He has become one of Old Friends’ most popular residents.

Silver Charm welcomed a new, yet familiar, neighbor last year when 1997 Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold was pensioned to Old Friends. Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron rode Touch Gold that spring, and McCarron says that if Touch Gold had not stumbled sharply at the start of the Preakness, his charge would have won that classic race as well.

The farm also showcases the major players from the 2002 Triple Crown, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem and upset Belmont Stakes winner Sarava. War Emblem, bred by the Nuckols family in central Kentucky, won the Derby and Preakness in commanding style. Unfortunately, like Touch Gold, War Emblem would suffer an untimely stumble at the starting gate, this time in the Belmont.

Sarava won that race at odds of 70-1, the highest in Belmont Stakes history. His owner, Gary Drake, says that Michael Blowen has kept his word to make Sarava “a rock star” when he inquired about moving the horse to Old Friends in 2012.

“If you have a horse that you really care about, all you want for them is to have a nice retirement, and Sarava’s got a nice retirement here,” Drake says. “Probably once every few weeks, I have somebody who comes up and says, ‘Hey, I saw your horse.’ Old Friends – it’s great for horses, and it’s great for fans, so we’re really happy that he’s here.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2115, which originally aired on April 30, 2016. View the full episode here.