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.
Of all the residents at Old Friends -- champions, Grade 1 winners, millionaires -- it is a recent addition to the farm whom Grisolia describes as "the most regal and dignified horse we've ever had."
That would be none other than Silver Charm, the 1997 winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes who just missed sweeping the Triple Crown when caught in the shadow of the Belmont Stakes wire by Touch Gold.
"Silver Charm is perhaps Michael Blowen's favorite horse of all time," Grisolia admitted.
It's easy to see why as the Florida-bred gray would go on to not only earn an Eclipse Award as champion three-year-old colt but later in his career capture the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup.
Inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2007, Silver Charm triumphed in 12 of his 24 career starts, placed in nine more and earned nearly $7 million during his time on track.
Campaigned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, he was retired to stud in 2000 at Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Kentucky. Prior to the 2005 breeding season, the gray stallion was sold to Japanese interests and, following quarantine protocols, traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun.
"I believe Silver Charm was one of the first stallions sent to Japan with a buy-back clause," Grisolia remarked. "So the Lewis family and his original breeding farm, Three Chimneys, always kept tabs on him."
The Lewis family not only kept track of their champion, they also donated the money to bring him back to the United States.
"It's enormously expensive to bring a horse back from overseas," Grisolia said. "The Lewis family generously footed the bill for the entire trip -- $60,000."
Silver Charm was recently pensioned from the breeding shed, and the process began to bring the popular gray back home.
"Re-patriating horses from overseas when possible is a big part of Old Friends' mission," Grisolia stated. "(Michael) had been in touch with the Japanese Breeding Association on and off for the past six years with a standing offer to retire (Silver Charm). And in the last few years, Michael also developed a relationship with Jeff Lewis, son of owners Bob and Beverly Lewis. Jeff had been out to visit Old Friends and knew of Michael's interest.
"So, every year Michael would look to see how many mares Silver Charm had bred, to see if his career was winding down. Then one day, kind of out of the blue, Sandy Hatfield, stallion manager at Three Chimneys, called and asked if we had room for 'an old gray stallion.'
"We couldn't really make it public right away, but Michael was so excited that he went to the back of the farm and started screaming."
Preparations immediately began to welcome Silver Charm to Old Friends, including an open house celebration.
"For a 21-year-old stallion, he's amazingly fit and healthy," Grisolia marveled. "After a 10,000-mile trip from Japan, he got off the trailer and looked like an eight-year-old. Though, being gray, keeping him clean is not an option."
That was in December, and in the ensuing months Silver Charm has settled in quite nicely. He's had quite a few visitors, including members of the Lewis family and jockey Gary Stevens, who piloted the stallion for much of his career.
"Jeff and Marge Lewis were here just this week (of April 20). They had a great visit," Grisolia said. "Gary Stevens came with his wife, Angie, and their daughter Madison about two weeks ago.
"Gary hasn't seen Silver Charm in over 10 years. When our farm manager, Tim Wilson, walked him out of the barn Gary burst into tears.
"We posted photos of the reunion on Facebook and the post got over 40,000 views. It was very moving."
It's only fitting that Silver Charm should have found a new home at Old Friends. His dam, Bonnie's Parker, lived out her life at the Georgetown farm after retiring from the breeding shed herself.
"He's very gentlemen-like -- he's quite polite with the farrier or the vet and visitors. He is clearly very smart," Grisolia described Silver Charm.
"I think to be a great champion a horse needs the sheer talent, of course, but it seems that kind of intelligence is what separates the great from the legendary. Secretariat, John Henry, Kelso -- they all seemed to have that 'presence.'
"Silver Charm has it too."
Little Silver Charm
While Silver Charm just recently took up residence at Old Friends, his miniature doppelganger has been at the farm for quite some time.
Little Silver Charm is the only non-Thoroughbred equine at Old Friends. The miniature horse was rescued by Blowen's trainer Lorita Lindermann at Rockingham Park in New Hampshire while the retirement facility was still just a dream waiting to happen.
Little Silver Charm has been the Old Friends mascot since the farm opened and an ambassador about equine rescue.
According to Grisolia, Little Silver Charm has made it quite plain he's the star attraction at the farm. She went on to describe a couple of entertaining experiences involving the little stallion.
"The Girl Scouts had a 'Learning Opportunity Day' here at the farm. There were several symposiums with a farrier, a veterinarian, etc. The late Dr. Doug Byars was our vet at the time and he used Little Silver Charm to demonstrate some horse basics.
"At one point there were about 30 or so seven-year-olds just hanging all over him -- I mean, he was just squeezed in the crowd -- and Little Silver Charm just stood there eating grass. He likes the kids."
He may be friendly for the kids, but the little guy is still a feisty stallion.
"Kent Desormeaux was a guest at one of our events, and he thought it would be fun to ride Little Silver Charm -- so he hopped on the little guy bareback.
"Little Silver Charm was so stunned he just froze for a minute. I don't think he's ever had a person on his back. Then you could see him trying to buck Kent off, but he was just too small," Grisolia laughed.
Little Silver Charm has a playful side as well, most notably when Blowen steps into his paddock.
"He plays soccer with Michael," Grisolia grinned. "Michael will run and kick the ball and Little Silver Charm will chase it and kick out with his back legs and send it flying.
"He keeps practicing in case, you know, Celtic or Dundee United is recruiting any four-leggeds."
Fans can keep up-to-date with Little Silver Charm's progress on his Facebook page.
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.
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.