Old Friends president Michael Blowen saw an unfamiliar character standing in the driveway of the Georgetown, Ky., farm during his morning rounds July 29.
Blowen was expecting the arrival of four-time grade I winner Little Mike Friday morning, but he was unsure of whom the man was. After a quick inquiry he discovered it was Carlo Vaccarezza, the owner, breeder, and trainer of the incoming retiree.
"I usually go around about 7 o'clock and try to stay out of the way of people doing real work," Blowen said. "There was a strange man in the driveway. Carlo flew all night from Florida, just to get the horse off the van. I was totally flabbergasted."
Bred by Vaccarezza in 2007, the Spanish Steps gelding out of the Wavering Monarch mare Hay Jude is now a 9-year-old and made the final start of his career July 10 at Gulfstream Park, where he set the pace and tired to fifth in a 1 1/16-mile turf allowance. It was his first start off a more than two-year layoff.
Blowen said Vaccarezza called 10 minutes after the race to arrange Little Mike's retirement plans at Old Friends. Almost three weeks later, the gelding settled in well during his first day at his new home.
"He walked off the van, Carlo gave him some mints, I gave him some carrots, he rolled a couple times, ate his hay, and settled right in," Blowen said. "He's been to Dubai—he's been all over. He's seen everything, so nothing bothers him."
Little Mike's trips abroad—he also travelled to Hong Kong—never resulted in a victory, but his résumé ranks with the best of the 107 horses at Old Friends. According to Blowen, Little Mike ranks third by earnings of the superstars on the farm—behind Silver Charm and Game On Dude, and in front of War Emblem.
An earner of more than $3.5 million, Little Mike won 14 of his 30 starts, including four turf grade I victories for trainer Dale Romans—the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, Arlington Million, and Breeders' Cup Turf in 2012, and the 2013 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. If not for the presence of Wise Dan, he almost surely would have been an Eclipse Award winner in 2012.
"It's so thrilling to have him here," Blowen said. "I'm star-struck around all these horses and he fits right in with the best we have here."