Saturday, September 24, 2016

Old Friends at Cabin Creek, Greenfield Center, New York, September 24, 2016

Horse racing has long had a devoted following, with wealthy folks owning stables as a status symbol and the poorer flocking to tracks to put down their money on a favourite.  Of course, as noble and beloved as the horse might be in human history, there is not actually a lot of sentimentality when it comes to a "sport" focused on making money so horses that are not racing and not breeding and are unsuitable for other purposes, such as pleasure riding mounts have a grim future at the old glue factory or dog food processing plant.

It is generally believed that Ferdinand, winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby and 1987 Breeders Cup Classic, and voted Eclipse Horse of the Year in 1987, ended up at the slaughterhouse in Japan in 2000 after an undistinguished post-racing career at stud there.  In response to this, animal lover Michael Blowen opened Old Friends, a retirement farm for racehorses in Georgetown, Kentucky.  The New York location, Old Friends at Cabin Creek, located just west of Saratoga Springs, was opened by JoAnn and Mark Pepper in 2009.  As we were heading to Saratoga for the Hemmings Concours d'Elegance, we thought a visit to the farm would be worthwhile.  So we turned the Corvette east and then south and headed into the United States on the 5 hour drive.

There are currently around 16 horses in residence on the attractive grounds.  Each gets plenty of space and food and they all enjoy visits from tour groups, as visitors are encouraged to feed them peppermints, which racehorses seem to be crazy for.  The horses are in excellent condition; all are alert and interested in their surroundings.  It should be pointed out that these were never pets or saddle horses but animal athletes so they are not particularly confiding or affectionate.

Strummer won 12 races in 56 starts, along with 9 seconds and 5 third places, earning a career total of $409,000

Roaring Lion had a record of coming in the money 22 times in 34 starts (12-4-6), earning $542,000

There is information on all the horses, which basically gives their biographies and race records, as well as earnings.  More than a few had brought in over $1 million in their glory so the $15 a day it costs to keep them at Old Friends does not seem out of line.

Of course, not all horses are successful.  Old Friends at Cabin Creek boasts that it is the home of Zippy Chippy, who can claim a bloodline that includes Northern Dancer, War Admiral, Man o'War and Bold Ruler.  He was born in 1991 and had a remarkably impressive string of non-wins.  He was traded for a 1988 Ford truck in 1995 to an owner who tended to put him in races where he was not really competitive.  It did not help that Zippy Chippy could be contrary at times, stopping in the middle of a race or refusing to leave the gate or biting.  In 2004 he became an outrider pony, escorting horses in the post parade, at the Finger Lakes racetrack in Farmington, New York.  He had been banned from racing there in 1998 after refusing to leave the gate three times but then by his retirement he had been banned at every racetrack in North America, as well as a fair in Massachusetts.  In 100 starts he had managed to come second eight times and third 12 but he never won a race.  Still, he had earned $30,834.  He apparently managed to beat two minor league baseball players of the Rochester Red Wing in exhibition races of 120 feet, although he lost to a third one, Jose Herrera.  Zippy Chippy arrived at Old Friends in 2010 and is quite the attraction, although at 25 he was looking a little rickety.

It was nice to see these handsome horses being looked after so well but considering the number of racehorses and the few refuges available for them, it is sad to contemplate what happens to the others.  Given the money that circulates around the exhibition and, yes, exploitation of these animals it is just another example of how we deal with other species.

You can find more information about Old Friends at Cabin Creek at their website here.

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