Old Friends Thoroughbred retirement center to receive Special Eclipse Award

Michael Blowen of Old Friends Farm with Sunshine Forever on June 21, 2014. (Photo by Barbara D. Livingston)
Michael Blowen of Old Friends Farm with Sunshine Forever on June 21, 2014. (Photo by Barbara D. Livingston)

Old Friends, the non-profit Thoroughbred retirement center outside Georgetown, will be presented with the Special Eclipse Award, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters announced Friday.

The Special Award honors extraordinary service, individual achievements in, or contributions to the sport of Thoroughbred racing.

Old Friends will receive the honor during the 44th annual Eclipse Awards on Jan. 17, 2015, at Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Founded in 2003 by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen, Old Friends cares for more than 150 rescued and retired horses, including several pensioned stallions.

This year, Old Friends became the new home for two of racing's biggest stars from the past 20 years, bringing 1997 Kentucky Derby hero Silver Charm back to his native state after his retirement from stud duty in Japan and acquiring three-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude after the 7-year-old gelding finished racing.

"This is just unbelievable," Blowen said. "We started with one horse just over 10 years ago and now we have 166 retirees. We have several Eclipse Award winners already at the farm; I can't wait to show them mine!"

Old Friends also operates Old Friends at Cabin Creek: The Bobby Frankel Division near Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, where past Travers winners Thunder Rumble and Will's Way greet the public, along with infamous 100-time loser Zippy Chippy.

The presence of high-profile stars helps raise money and give comfortable homes to lesser names.

"It allows us to take other horses that really didn't do as much but deserve a retirement just as well," Blowen said. "I want people to come away with really good feelings about the sport of horse racing because I adore it and we've made some inroads in that direction."

The farm is run by five full-time employees, four part-time employees and 24 volunteers.

"Our industry has made significant progress in allowing former racehorses to live out dignified retirements thanks to Old Friends and likeminded organizations," said NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop. "We are grateful to Michael and his dedicated team of staff and volunteers for the positive impact they've had on our sport's commitment to aftercare and on the lives of hundreds of Thoroughbreds."

The Special Award will be given for the 24th time since it was inaugurated in 1971 to honor Robert J. Kleberg, manager of the famed King Ranch. Subsequent recipients have included racing luminaries such as Bill Shoemaker, C.V. Whitney, Edward J. DeBartolo, Richard Duchossois, Russell Baze, Laffit Pincay Jr., Dale Baird, Team Zenyatta and last year's recipient, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.