Published today online on Boston.com
Here is the opening excerpt (link to full story at bottom)
GEORGETOWN, Ky. – It all started with a shovel and a pile of manure at Suffolk Downs, circa 1997.
Michael Blowen, the eclectic movie critic of the Boston Globe, was in love with the horses. He wanted to learn everything about them, so that he might cash in more tickets. He begged legendary trainer Carlos Figueroa for a job on the backstretch. Blowen expected to be paid. Figueroa looked shocked.
“You are on scholarship to Figueroa University,” said the man known as the King of the Fairs for his dominance at New England traveling fairs. Figueroa’s first words of wisdom? “Lie, cheat, and steal.”
Blowen shoveled and learned. He owned a claiming horse or two with friends, but he also watched as deadbeat horses were loaded onto the truck to slaughterhouses.
“They smelled death,” he says. “They knew where they were going.”
Their screams haunted him.
So he retired from the newspaper and started rescuing horses, initially for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
“I was at Rockingham, and there was room on the truck to save one more horse,” Blowen remembers. “There was this old horse I wanted and I told Carlos we had a check for $250 for him. But Carlos said no, the horse still had something left in him. So I said, ‘Carlos I’ll give you the check for $250 and then add $500 of my own cash.’ Carlos said OK.”
The horse was driven away and Carlos asked for his cash.
Only there was no cash.
“I said, ‘Carlos, remember: Lie, cheat and steal.’ ”
Now the 60-year-old Blowen does nothing but good deeds. In 2002, he moved to Kentucky and founded Old Friends, a nonprofit organization that rescues retired thoroughbreds. He gives them a loving home on a picture-perfect 52-acre farm. It is the only retirement farm in the United States that accepts stallions.
“This place,” says Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, who lives nearby, “is heaven for horses.”
The formation of Old Friends can be traced to the story of Ferdinand, who won the 1986 Kentucky Derby and was sent to stud in Japan, but was eventually slaughtered there.
The international outcry that ensued helped Blowen and Old Friends make new friends. He persuaded a Kentucky bank to lend him $1 million to buy Dream Chase Farm. His mother-in-law co-signed a loan to help him rescue more thoroughbreds.
So he built the paddocks, pampered the horses, and just as in “Field of Dreams,” people came; some 20,000 horse racing fans visited last year. Unlike other farms – Cigar is stabled just down the road at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington – visitors are encouraged to pet the horses.