When Genuine Reward was born 22 years ago, cards, letters, gifts and flowers poured in to Three Chimneys Farm in Woodford County.
His dam, Genuine Risk, won the Kentucky Derby in 1980 and was one of only three fillies to earn the blanket of roses. She went on to finish second in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, but for 11 years after her racing career she had been unable to deliver a live foal.
Finally, after many miscarriages, Genuine Risk was a mother, and her story resonated with the public.
But though his birth was heralded far and wide and the media followed every step of his training, Genuine Reward, sired by Rahy, did not become the racing icon his mother was.
After several cases of bucked shins, he retired without running a single race.
For years, Genuine Reward worked as a stallion siring polo ponies in Wyoming, until his owner retired him.
Now, with some help from best-selling author Laura Hillenbrand, he has returned to the Bluegrass to live out his days at Old Friends, a retirement farm for Thoroughbreds in Scott County.
It all started, said Michael Blowen, founder of Old Friends, when Genuine Reward was offered recently on Craigslist for "$500 or best offer."
What the owner didn't know, he said, was that in the horse world that wording is often code "for sending them to slaughter," Blowen said.
He said the owner had no ill intent: "She was just trying to figure out a nice home for him."
As word began to spread, an uproar ensued, Blowen said. "It was all over the Internet," he said.
Blowen already had contacted the owner in hopes of bringing Genuine Reward to Old Friends when he got a call from Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken who is a longtime supporter of Old Friends. She donated $5,000 to pay for and transport the horse.
Genuine Reward arrived at Old Friends about a week ago.
Hillenbrand wrote in a Facebook post that Genuine Risk captured her heart as a child, and she contacted Blowen in hopes of saving Genuine Reward after seeing the ad on Craigslist.
"When I was a kid, I saw my first Kentucky Derby, won in smashing style by a tough little filly named Genuine Risk," Hillenbrand wrote. "She was only the second filly to ever win the Derby, and her performance thrilled me to my bones."
She wrote that Genuine Reward is "a connection to my childhood and my beginnings in racing," and that she was glad he "will have a happy home for the rest of his years."
Blowen said Monday that Hillenbrand plans to visit Genuine Reward at the farm in the fall.
For Hillenbrand, that's a big deal. She suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and has not left the Washington area since 1990, but she told The Washington Post she would make the road trip in October.
In the meantime, Genuine Reward is generating excitement again.
Though he is still under quarantine, he's getting lots of visitors, and hats with his name on them have flown off the shelves in the Old Friends gift shop.
Blowen said Genuine Reward is "a very, very smart horse" and bears a striking resemblance to Genuine Risk.
"He looks just like her," Blowen said. "He's very handsome."
Genuine Risk, who went on to deliver just one more live foal, was 31 when she died at Bert and Diana Firestone's Newstead Farm in Upperville, Va., in 2008.
Blowen said about $3,000 of Hillenbrand's gift remained after he gave $500 to Genuine Reward's owner and paid about $1,500 to transport him from Wyoming.
Old Friends will bear the future costs of his care, but Blowen said he expected that the horse would earn his keep.
"He never earned a dime (on the track), and yet, as soon as we put the hats up, they sold out completely," Blowen said.
He said Genuine Reward was "in perfect condition" and was demonstrating remarkable intelligence.
On Monday afternoon, he said the horse took carrots from his hand one by one and, instead of eating them, put them in his feed bucket with others already there.
"He was like a squirrel," Blowen said. "We've never had a horse that smart."
Maryjean Wall, a former Herald-Leader racing writer who covered the first years of Genuine Reward's life, said Monday that she expected him to be quite a draw for the farm.
"Who wouldn't want to see the first offspring of one of only three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby?" she said. "Even though he wasn't a racehorse that could duplicate her career, he's still a little star in himself."