Suspended from a thin rope and swinging gently against the early evening summer sky, a member of the Flying Wallendas circus troupe made a special start to a July 14 performance at Old Friends, the Thoroughbred retirement facility in Georgetown, Ky.
Donning the Dogwood Stables silks, the Flying Wallendas decided to make an appearance at the annual Old Friends fundraiser because one of the farm’s most recent additions, retired Thoroughbred stallion and 1993 Super Derby (gr. I) winner Wallenda, is named after the circus group’s aerialist, Karl Wallenda.
“In the circus business, it’s a great honor to have a horse named for you,” said Flying Wallendas publicist Marybeth MacKay, a longtime fan of horse racing who followed Wallenda’s career and suppported the Old Friends “Fly Wallenda Home” campaign. “I just thought it would be great to bring our act here.”
Wallenda most recently stood at Toyosato Stallion Center in Hokkaido, Japan. He was purchased by Old Friends for $10,000 and has been at the farm for more than two months. Dogwood president Cot Campbell, who campaigned Wallenda during his racing career; former trainer Frank Alexander; and former members of the stallion’s syndicate all made significant donations to help raise about $60,000 to bring the horse back to the United States.
Other activities during the fundraiser/homecoming weekend at Old Friends included a cocktail hour with Sopranos star Frank Santorelli, a live and silent auction, Bluegrass music, working artist demonstrations, and a buffet from Wallace Station. In addition, Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends, gave guided tours of the farm and spoke in detail of several of the farm’s horses, most of which are stallions.
“I was always concerned that there was nowhere for stallions to go (once they retire),” said Blowen, who started in the industry as a groom at Suffolk Downs and was later an owner and operations director of a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation facility. “We had to persuade people that this is what we were doing--no one had ever heard of it before.”
Since its establishment in 2003, Old Friends, a non-profit organization, has brought several stallions back from overseas and has saved others from being sent to slaughterhouses. The 52-acre farm is now home to around 25 horses.