BY RACHEL SHULHAFER
On June 8, 2002, a record crowd of 103,000 gathered in Belmont Park in hopes that Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem would become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Everyone’s dreams were pretty much crushed when War Emblem stumbled at the gate. Instead 70-1 shot Sarava won the race, making him the longest shot to ever win the Belmont Stakes.
Sarava’s glory days are behind him, but at the age of 15, he still has a good chunk of life left. He’s officially retired, and gets to enjoy the remainder of his days in the lap of luxury at Old Friends, which is a retirement farm for thoroughbreds in Georgetown, Ky.
In February, I got to go on a shoot at Old Friends for Woodford Reserve, who is one of their sponsors. Despite the polar vortex being in full effect and the ground being covered in a layer of crunchy snow, several horses who were once top-notch athletes were out in the paddock enjoying their leisurely lives. The first horse I met was Gulch, who won the 1988 Eclipse Award and sired 1995 Kentucky Derby winner, Thunder Gulch. However, at the ripe age of 30, Gulch was a little weary of the big, scary camera, and opted to stay at a distance. But across the paddock stood Sarava, who immediately made us aware that he had no problem still being in the spotlight by nipping at people’s hats and jacket hoods.
Sarava did a bit of showing off; he was quite fond of prancing around his pasture and throwing in a buck or two every once in a while. He even strayed away from the carrot bucket to photo bomb a shot, and really enjoyed the occasional nose rub.
After touring the entire facility and getting to meet the president of Old Friends, Michael Blowen, as well as several dedicated volunteers, it became clear how lucky the thoroughbred industry is to have a facility like Old Friends. Horses live long lives, but only race for a small portion of them. They give their owners and trainers everything they have during their short racing careers, and therefore deserve to retire with dignity, and that’s what Old Friends strives to do. After news broke in 2002 that 1986 Derby winner Ferdinand had been killed in a slaughterhouse, Old Friends formed to ensure an unnecessary death to a formidable animal would never happen again. The farm started as one paddock with two horses, but has since grown into a 92-acre facility that houses more than 100 horses, and is also the only thoroughbred rescue that specializes in the care of stallions.
As a non-profit, Old Friends gets no government assistance. Instead they rely on grants, donations, and private support. To find out ways to help Old Friends, check them out here. Sarava thanks you!