About a year ago, Michael Blowen began keeping an eye on a bay gelding named Ball Four.
Blowen, who is the founder and owner of the Georgetown, Ky.-based Old Friends equine retirement facility, said he liked Ball Four’s name and the way he often found the winner’s circle at high odds. One such example was the 2008 Fayette Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, when the son of Grand Slam scored a victory as a 21-1 outsider.
This year, in his eighth season of racing, Blowen decided 10-year-old Ball Four deserved a dignified retirement for all his mileage.
“In February, he ran for $4,000 at Penn National and won, so then he really got on our radar and I thought, ‘We’ll get in a position where we’ll be able to claim him’ ” he said.
But Blowen didn’t have to go that far. With the financial help of a few fans and horsemen, and the generosity of his former owner and trainer, Ball Four is now retired and is settling into his new Kentucky home.
During his years of racing, Ball Four scored additional graded victories in the 2009 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap and the 2006 Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes (both gr. II). He set a new track record at Turfway Park in the latter race, covering nine furlongs in 1:48.29. In all, the hard-knocking gelding posted a career record of 9-3-4 from 31 starts, for earnings of $730,470.
Blowen put the word out on Old Friends’ Facebook page that he needed some financial support in order to claim Ball Four and promptly collected more than $3,000 from fans alone, including a donation from noted author Laura Hillenbrand. Then, in the midst of Triple Crown season, Uncle Mo’s owner Mike Repole, an Old Friends supporter, called Blowen and said he would claim Ball Four on the retirement farm’s behalf.
But before Repole could claim the gelding from a $5,000 race in which he was entered March 4, Ball Four’s owner Bruce Golden and trainer David Jacobson, who had heard of Old Friends’ interest in the horse, decided to scratch him and give him to the retirement facility free of charge.
Blowen said others that contributed to Ball Four’s retirement included prominent horse owner Maggi Moss, who facilitated the exchange, and Sallee Horse Vans, which transported Ball Four to Kentucky at no cost. All of the other donated funds will now be used toward Ball Four’s care at Old Friends.
“One of the other reasons why I wanted to get him is because one of my favorite books is called Ball Four,” said Blowen. "It was written by Jim Bouton, a former pitcher for the New York Yankees. I read it when I was a kid, and it’s a really great behind-the-scenes look at baseball.”
On a whim, Blowen decided to contact Bouton about the horse Ball Four and the former baseball player became excited about the idea of tying the horse and the book together.
“What transpired from that is that he’s coming here (Kentucky),” said Blowen.
On April 14, Bouton is scheduled to throw the first pitch at the Lexington Legend’s game, and Ball Four’s victory in the Fayette will be shown on the ballpark’s big screen. Also, on Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) Day April 16, Bouton will be at Keeneland, signing copies of his book in the paddock during “Breakfast with the Works.”
“It’s been a really, really nice story,” said Blowen, adding that Ball Four had “settled in right away,” at his new home. The gelding is currently stabled at veterinarian Doug Byers’ farm near Old Friends. “If people want to go see (Ball Four), they just need to come by Old Friends around 4 p.m. and I’ll take them over to Dr. Byers’ farm; that’s what time I feed him."
Blowen said Ball Four would be moved to the Old Friends property once Byers fully evaluates his health situation.
“He’ll come to us as soon as he gets Dr. Byer’s seal of approval," Blowen said. When asked where the gelding would be located at Old Friends, Blowen replied, “I’m not sure yet…he might be in the front paddock, but they usually tell me where they want to be.”