By TAMARA IKENBERG
After winning millions of dollars for their owners, most racehorsesâ€™ lives are left in the lurch.
Ferdinandâ€™s Ball, a Derby party which takes place Thursday, May 3 at The Frazier Museum, is the only seasonal soiree that gives back to the four-legged Derby stars.
â€œThese horses deserve better,â€ said Kim Boyle, who created Ferdinandâ€™s Ball with her sister Aimee Wulfeck Boyle. The sisters have a history of animal activism, including raising money for the Kenton County Animal Shelter. â€œI think once more people learn the truth about the end most of them face, things will begin to get better. Thatâ€™s why we chose them as the benefactor for Ferdinandâ€™s Ball.â€
In past years, the party, named for Ferdinand, the 1986 Derby winner who was sent to slaughter in Japan, has attracted animal-conscious celebs guests like author and EXTRA host Maria Menounos and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover girl Kate Upton.
Ferdinandâ€™s Ball directly benefits Old Friends, a facility in Georgetown Kentucky founded in 2003, where retired racehorses, breeding studs and some other special hooved residents are free to roam, graze and be adored by the visitors who come to see them practically every day of the year. It costs $3200 a week just to keep them all fed.
The lush 52-acre farm is home to more than 50 horses. Old Friends cares for more than 116 horses. The rest are boarded in satellite facilities in Cabin Creek New York and other locations.
â€œOur horses have earned more than any other farm in the bluegrassâ€¦nearly 90 million dollars,â€ said Cindy Grisolia, an Old Friends volunteer since 2005. She also sits on the organizationâ€™s board of directors. â€œWe have (Turf Classic at Belmont winner) Sunshine Forever. We also have Creator, a European champion that we repatriated from a stud farm in Japan.â€ Sunshine Forever was also brought back home from Japan.
Other famous â€œFriendsâ€ include Special Ring, winner of the Eddie Read Stakes in California, and Popcorn Deelites, one of a handful of horses to play Seabiscuit in the 2003 movie â€œSeabiscuit.â€
The operation is run by Michael Blowen, a Boston transplant and racing enthusiast who used to be the film critic for the Boston Globe. â€œIt feels great,â€ Blowen said, to be able to give these horses a peaceful, safe post-career life.
Blowen lives in a house on the farm with his wife Diane. The couple welcomes one of their maned residents into their home. The one who receives that special privilege is Little Silver Charm, a pony with a buttery mane that Blowen rescued from an uncertain future. He was never a racehorse, but heâ€™s a star in his own right, and even has his own Facebook page.
â€œWhen People magazine came here a few years ago to do a piece on the farm, we have all these famous horses here, and he was the one who ended up in the magazine even though we have all these famous horses here.â€
Blowen found the pretty pony fourteen years ago at Rockingham Park racetrack in New Hampshire.
â€œA truck showed up, and we werenâ€™t exactly sure where the truck was gonna end up. I didnâ€™t think it was going to be any place good,â€ Blowen recalls. â€œFor forty dollars, we got Little Silver Charm, two ducks and a goat. The goat stayed at the track. I donâ€™t know what happened to the ducksâ€¦ They were on the Rockingham Pond the last time I saw them.â€
Blowen added that Little Silver Charm, who also happens to love playing soccer, has a way with young visitors to Old Friends.
]â€œWe work with (mentally challenged kids from) Eastern State Hospital and heâ€™s great with them,â€ Blowen said. â€œWe have all these thoroughbreds here and some are a little too big and intimidating for some people. And Little Silver Charm is not.â€
Little Silver Charm is one of many amazing animals Blowen and his volunteers saved from a sad situation.
Resident Leave Seattle had a hard life that included abandonment and being put up for sale at a slaughter auction in Massachusetts, before finding peace at Old Friends.
The farm has also provided solace for victims of Ernie Peragallo, a thoroughbed owner in New York who was jailed for his gross neglect of racehorses. One of those horses didnâ€™t even have a name when Old Friends came to the rescue. â€œWe had a naming contest and we called him Escape From New York,â€ the title of a 1981 film about a violent future New York. â€œHe also has a nickname. We call him Snake Plissken like Kurt Russellâ€™s character in the movie.â€
For more information on Ferdinandâ€™s Ball, visit www.ferdinandsball.com . And to learn more about Old Friends, visit www.oldfriendsequine.org.