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'Secretariat' might not win Oscar, but Big Red sired Academy Award

At this time next year, Secretariat the movie might be in the race for an Academy Award. But Secretariat the horse got one 24 years ago.

No, the 1973 Triple Crown winner's name was not called when the envelopes were opened in 1986. But Secretariat had a son named Academy Award, foaled by Mine Only.

"I liked the name," Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, said Friday. "I'm a theatrical fan and was always aware of the Oscars."

The 2010 Oscars will be presented Sunday night.

Unlike many Thoroughbreds, Academy Award's name was not the result of a creative marrying of names from his bloodline — although his own progeny have included Winning Actress and Thespian.

"Peter Blum owned him, and he just liked the name," Michael Blowen said Wednesday morning while tending to the horse, who is about two-thirds the size of his legendary father but has his coloring.

Early this year, Academy Award got a new home at Old Friends Equine, the Georgetown farm that is home to retired Thoroughbreds whose racing and breeding careers have ended.

It's a place where a guy named Academy Award should feel right at home.

Blowen, the farm's founder and owner, is a retired movie critic for The Boston Globe. In building the farm, which runs entirely on donations, he has solicited help from film-star friends including Jack Nicholson.

Sponsors of Academy Award's retirement include a genuine movie star, Angie Dickinson, and her ex-husband, composer Burt Bacharach.

"Now, I finally have an Academy Award," Dickinson, a longtime supporter of Old Friends, said in a release from the farm.

Academy Award's fellow residents include Popcorn Delight, one of the Thoroughbreds who played Seabiscuit in the 2003 movie that was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, and Black Tie Affair, the 1991 Horse of the Year.

He is at a farm that was built on a star system. Like a movie producer, Blowen says he knew that "if you fill your stables with stars, people will come see them. We have more winners of stakes races here than any other farm and every major race, except the Derby."

Academy Award is 24 years old, which would make him about 80 in human years, Blowen says.

Because of an injured cannon bone, he didn't get to race until he was 4. He was a talented turf horse, winning five races, including the 1991 Early Times Manhattan Handicap. In all, he ran in 19 races and earned $226,943 before being retired to Win Row Farm in Lebanon, Ohio.

"He's big because of his name and because he looks like Secretariat," Blowen says, joking that he should enter the horse in the annual Secretariat look-alike contest in Bourbon County.

Chenery agrees: "He's a strong, good-looking horse, and you feel like you know him even if you didn't."

Chenery said she was aware of Academy Award's racing career but hadn't kept up with him since. After all, her Secretariat sired 546 foals.

According to The Jockey Club, Secretariat had four crops of foals after Academy Award was born in 1986. The last crop was 45 foals in 1990, a year after he died. The club said there is no way to determine how many of his offspring are alive.

Chenery is supporting Academy Award's retirement with $2,500 through her Secretariat Foundation, which supports equine research and retirement. Dickinson and Bacharach contributed $48,000 to the farm through the Burt Bacharach Foundation, and Boston TV producer Barbara Bowen kicked in $1,000.

"He was a nutcase when he got here," Old Friends owner Blowen said of Academy Award, who spent a few minutes quietly munching on grass and nuzzling Bowen.

At Old Friends, he can easily be seen by visiting tour groups, particularly if they come out later in the day.

Although she has high hopes for the Secretariat movie, Chenery is realistic about its Oscar prospects. Disney's sentimental, family-oriented sports films don't have a good track record with the Academy.

So this chestnut stallion enjoying his golden years on a Scott County hillside might be as close as the Secretariat family gets to Oscar night.

But the Triple Crown is in his blood.