River Downs racetrack will celebrate “Old Friends Day” on Labor Day with a silent auction and other festivities to support the work of the Georgetown, Kentucky-based thoroughbred retirement sanctuary, the only one of its kind to host stallions.
Old Friends Day will also honor a local legend, Appygolucky, who raced for 10 years, primarily on the Ohio circuit, winning 25 races and earning $127,799 in 107 starts, before his owner Charlie Lawson agreed to donate him to Old Friends in 2009, at the request of Vivien Morrison and Bea Snyder. For a few sweet months, “Appy” was able to revel in the care of people who loved him, to their mutual delight. Vivien captured the little horse’s joie-de-vivre in his grassy surroundings:
“Appy romped in his new paddock like a young colt, his tail streaming behind him like a storm flag flying. After many years as a working racehorse, he ran with a zeal known only to those who feel truly free.”
But his decade of racing had taken a toll, and within months of his arrival at Old Friends, Appygolucky was diagnosed with an injury to his vertebrae from which he was ultimately unable to recover. And on October 5th, 2009, when his condition deteriorated to the point that it compromised his quality of life, Appygolucky was gently let go. As Vivien so movingly recounts it:
“Michael (Blowen) led Appy to a little grove outside the big barn and let him graze once more on that lush Kentucky grass. Little Silver Charm stood watch from his round pen, to make certain, said Michael, that all was carried out with the utmost of dignity. Surrounded by loving members of his Old Friends family, Appy finished his Earthly race.”
Eulogizing Appygolucky in the Old Friends Blog on the day of his death, volunteer “Val” wrote:
“You could say Appy’s story is the other side of racing, that of the everyday horses who pay their way on the track but never become famous. While he was a far cry from the kind of racehorse who wins big, well-known races, in the end maybe he was among the lucky ones. He lived his final days among people who cared. And he’ll be remembered for far more than his 100 races. I’ll remember the little bay horse who tried to the very end, with kindness, heart, and tenacity.”
To honor the gallant gelding’s memory, Vivien Morrison has created the Appygolucky Memorial Trust, which raises funds to sponsor a dignified retirement at Old Friends for other older claiming-level horses. Its first beneficiary is Mikethespike, who was acquired with monies from the “Appy Trust” after having suffered a career-ending injury in his 125th start. With the assistance of Gail Hirt, a dedicated thoroughbred rescuer in Michigan, who has been caring for him for more than a year now, the almost-white 11-year-old son of Anet is expected to arrive at Old Friends this fall, along with another Appy Trust-funded horse, Ident, a 15-year-old son of Mt. Livermore, out of a Northern Dancer mare. The regally bred Ident won his first race in maiden special weight company at Saratoga in 1998, and gradually descended the claiming ranks during 12 seasons of campaigning until he was retired in 2009 with 18 wins and over $200,000 in earnings.
In addition to their fundraising activities on behalf of Old Friends, River Downs’ Labor Day celebrations will also include a retirement party for the 14-year-old Eagle Time, a stakes-winning son of Light of Morn who had been sent to stud but was put back in training as a 12-year-old, after a five-year hiatus from racing. He last finished fourth for a $5000 tag on August 27th, but will now be permanently pensioned.
The multiple stakes-winning Catlaunch, a former Ohio Champion who recently passed the $1 million earnings mark, will be paraded between races on what will be the last day of the current River Downs meet. The 10-year-old Ohio-bred son of Noble Cat, whose second dam is the hard-knocking stakes winner Skipat, has won four of his five races and more than $119,000 this year, all in stakes company at River Downs and Thistledown.
If you can’t be at River Downs for “Old Friends Day,” you can support the nonprofit facility’s efforts on behalf of retired thoroughbreds by donating through the Old Friends website.