A Haven For Retired Champions

Michael Bowden and Popcorn Deelites
Michael Bowden and Popcorn Deelites

Odds are that most racing fans have forgotten about Ruhlmann — even though in 1990, more than 100,000 people saw him win a million dollars at Santa Anita. He's past his prime now, but having the time of his life, retired in Kentucky at age 22.

"We have an understanding, but it took me a long time to get the understanding," Michael Blowen, who runs a retirement home for thoroughbreds called Old Friends, told CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger.

What's the understanding?

"Well, it's that he's the boss," Blowen said.

Blowen has quite a collection of old friends at Old Friends. Swan's Way raced 81 times when he was younger. He's slowed down a little at 17 years old.

"He's the only one I can beat," Blowen said. "When I wake up in the morning, I see these wonderful great champions in my backyard. I think it's like having Larry Bird or Michael Jordan here."

Blowen used to be a movie reviewer in Boston. But he owned a few horses; raced one and learned a lot about the business — especially the dark side.

FYI: Find out more about the retired champions, including how to help
He saw horses that were too old or too injured to race or to breed sent off to slaughterhouses.

It even happened to Ferdinand, who won the 1986 Kentucky Derby and ended up being killed 16 years later when he stopped making money for his owners.

"Everybody who was ever around this horse said this was the kindest, nicest, sweetest horse anyone was ever around — and that's what happened to him," Blowen said.

When Blowen heard about Ferdinand, he decided he had to rescue as many other horses as possible.

These may be some of the luckiest horses in the thoroughbred world. Blowen can only take care for only 30 through his organization, and there are only 20 groups like his in the country. That's not a lot — considering that in one year, more than 36,000 thoroughbreds were born.

Old Friends relies mostly on donations to rescue and maintain the horses. Some owners pay the roughly $2,300 per year for their horse's retirement, but just a handful. Too many of them sell the horses to slaughterhouses for up to $1,000.

"If you can't look at this animal and see something spectacular, if you're just looking at this horse as an economic commodity, then they should be racing cars and not horses," Blowen said.

The horses at Old Friends still attract a crowd, even though their moneymaking days are behind them.

Busloads of people come to Old Friends to see them, admire them and learn from Blowen that horses like Sunshine Forever, once worth $20 million and then almost slaughtered, still have great value — even though they're not worth much money.