Once upon a time, former Boston Globe film critic and Thoroughbred owner Michael Blowen had a dream -- to give retired racehorses, coming off the tracks and out of the breeding sheds, a place where they could spend their remaining years in peace.
In 2003 that dream came to fruition when Old Friends Retirement Center opened its doors in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Today the farm -- which is home to stallions and geldings as well as the mares who foaled them -- cares for more than 150 horses across three states and attracts around 20,000 tourists annually.
This three-part series takes a look at just a few of those who call Old Friends home.
So take a stroll down memory lane to catch up with some Kentucky Derby runners, including one very famous winner, who have found their way back home to the Blue Grass State.
Born in Kentucky, Gulch spent the majority of his career running in New York. That didn't stop him from shipping to other locales for major events, and one of those just happened to be Churchill Downs for the 1987 Kentucky Derby.
While any other year the bay horse would have dominated the competition, unfortunately Gulch was born in the same crop as Capote, Gone West, Alysheba, Bet Twice and Cryptoclearance, just to name a few stars, and faced those runners numerous times.
It was Alysheba who prevailed in the 1987 Derby, with Gulch settling for sixth. He shipped to Maryland to be fourth in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later and returned off nine day's rest at Belmont Park in New York to capture the Metropolitan Handicap.
Twelve days later the hard-knocking colt showed up in the Belmont Stakes and finished third.
Despite his early success at route distances, Gulch would go on to capture the Breeders' Cup Sprint as a four-year-old and earned an Eclipse Award as that year's champion sprinter.
Gulch retired from racing after the Breeders' Cup Sprint and took up stud duty at Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Kentucky, finding just as much success in the breeding shed as he did on the track. He's perhaps best known for siring Thunder Gulch, the 1995 Kentucky Derby victor who would go on to become a leading sire himself.
When Gulch was pensioned from stud duty in 2009, Blowen contacted Bill Farish of Lane's End farm about bringing the stallion to Old Friends.
According to Old Friends' Cindy Grisolia, Lane's End was happy to donate Gulch to the retirement facility.
"Michael spoke with Bill Farish and said we'd love to have him," Grisolia explained. "He was very popular with the public, and the farm wanted him to continue that relationship and continue to be available to his fans."
"They also said he was 'a bit of a ham' and would enjoy the consistent attention -- which he does. Lane's End has been very supportive."
While fans are always eager to see the great stallion, Gulch recently got a surprise visit during the week of April 13.
"Angel Cordero, who rode Gulch to victory in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Sprint, was here just last week and spent a few hours at the farm," Grisolia revealed. "Angel also rode Breeders' Cup winner Sunshine Forever and Kiri's Clown, both Old Friends retirees who passed away last year, unfortunately."
Now 31, Gulch spends his days lazing around his paddock at Old Friends getting fed ground up carrots.
"He has a hard time chewing anything too hard, so we shred the carrots he gets as treats on the tours in a Cuisinart," Grisolia said. "The tour guides take them out in little baggies.
"We sometimes joke and call Gulch our own Greta Garbo," she added. "Usually he's friendly with visitors, but sometimes he just…vants to be alone. And we respect that."
While West Virginia-bred Afternoon Deelites never faced Gulch on track, he was born the same year as Thunder Gulch.
The duo actually met before the 1995 renewal of the Kentucky Derby, facing off in the prior year's Hollywood Futurity. Afternoon Deelites easily prevailed that day, with Thunder Gulch 6 1/2 lengths behind in second, but the tables were turned in their next battle.
Thunder Gulch took the Kentucky Derby while Afternoon Deelites suffered only the second loss of his career up to that point. It was also the dark bay colt's first start outside of California.
Afternoon Deelites returned to the West Coast and didn't venture far from its shores until wrapping up his racing career as a four-year-old. He shipped back to Kentucky, winning a graded contest at Keeneland, before closing out his time on track with a second in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park in New York.
Afternoon Deelites racked up a 7-3-0 mark from 12 starts, and soon took up stud duty at Airdrie Farm near Midway, Kentucky, before eventually moving to Clear Creek Stud near Folson, Louisiana.
"His stallion career was cut short, I think, by a bad reaction to a Strangles vaccination," Grisolia said.
It didn't take long for the stallion to find himself making one last trip to Kentucky upon his retirement from the breeding shed.
"(Former Kentucky Governor) Brereton Jones, who owns Airdrie, is a huge, huge supporter of Old Friends and he and Val Murrell of Clear Creek arranged for this wonderful champ to come live with us," Grisolia explained.
Owned and campaigned by Grammy and Academy Award-winning singer, songwriter and composer Burt Bacharach, Afternoon Deelites was ridden his entire career by Kent Desormeaux, who was a frequent visitor to see the stallion as well as Old Friends resident The Wicked North.
"Desormeaux, a big Old Friends supporter, visited the farm often before he moved his tack to California," Grisolia said. "Governor Jones has also been to see him. Burt Bacharach has not been here, but he is in touch with Michael all the time and he has been a huge financial supporter of Old Friends.
"Michael had a photo taken of him reading Burt's autobiography, ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart: My Life and Music’ in front of Afternoon Deelites' paddock. The horse put his head over the fence and it looked like he was reading, too.
"We sent the photo to Burt and apparently he had it blown up and hung in his office. He loved it."
11th annual Homecoming Event
Now that you've read about a few of Old Friend's residents, you can visit the facility for yourself.
The retirement farm is holding its 11th annual Homecoming Event, which takes place May 3 from 2-6 p.m. (EDT) at the Georgetown facility.
There will be silent and live auctions of racing memorabilia, equine art, jewelry and more, as well as live music and tours of the farm.
Fans can get tickets, which cost $25, by visiting the website www.oldfriendsequine.org or by calling 502-863-1775.
Special thanks to Cindy Grisolia for taking the time to answer questions and being an excellent guide while visiting Old Friends to gather information and take photos.