As 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic adjusts to his new life at Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky., the farm's founder Michael Blowen is already planning the next group of arrivals from Japan.
"Came Home, I'll Have Another, I had Arazi on the list but he's getting too old to travel," Blowen said of possible future Old Friends residents. Came Home and I'll Have Another are currently at stud in Japan while Arazi is pensioned in Australia.
The relationship that Blowen has cultivated with the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders' Association, with the help of bloodstock agent Emmanuel de Seroux's Narvick International, led to the farm receiving a number of horses from Japan. Two other popular dual classic winners returned from stud duties there, Silver Charm from the JBBA's Shizunai Stallion Station and War Emblem from Shadai Stallion Farm.
However, Blowen said since Charismatic's arrival Dec. 3, the fan reception has been different.
"I think the response to him has been greater than any other horse we've ever had here," he said. "I'm sure that's true because of all the story that goes with him—there's not a point in his story that's not interesting."
The chestnut son of Summer Squall rose from the claiming ranks for trainer D. Wayne Lukas to win the 1999 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) before suffering an injury to his left front leg in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). To prevent further damage, jockey Chris Antley dismounted past the wire and held Charismatic's front leg off the ground.
After the injury put an end to his career on the track, Charismatic stood at Lane's End for three seasons before being sold in 2002 and sent to Japan. Blowen, Narvick, and the JBBA worked together to plan his long journey back to Kentucky, which was sponsored in part by his former owners through the Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Foundation and Tito's Handmade Vodka.
Now Blowen's longtime dream of seeing the horse at his farm has come true.
"It's such a thrill to wake up every morning and just see him. Usually I think people's expectations are always greater than reality, but for him, it's exactly the opposite. Although I had tremendous expectations, I had no idea that he'd come back in the condition that he's in."
Overall, Blowen thinks Old Friends' relationship with the JBBA and the increasing aftercare effort in American racing has brought attention to racehorse aftercare around the world.
"I think (Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand's fate) was an eye-opener for people to think about what they do with these horses once their racing and breeding careers are over," he said. "I think that's one of Ferdinand's greatest legacies.
"The (Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance) is doing a tremendous job of raising money and awareness and accrediting these groups," he said of the non-profit that provides accreditation and grants to organizations rehoming and retiring Thoroughbreds.
"We have a young horse here (4-year-old Timothy James)," he added. "We don't adopt out any of our horses usually, but I know that if I send him to the other (accredited) organizations... the horse is going to be well taken care of and is not going to end up in a bad situation."