GEORGETOWN, Ky. (AP) — Michael Blowen can step outside his house any day of the week and visit retired racehorses at Old Friends, the thoroughbred retirement farm he founded in Kentucky two decades ago that attentively cares for former winners and losers alike.

From his home’s backdoor, Blowen can watch one former racehorse great in particular amble aimlessly in a nearby pasture: Silver Charm, the champion thoroughbred that won the 1997 Kentucky Derby.

“Hey, handsome,” Blowen called out as he sidled up to his longtime friend that now has only four remaining teeth and spends much of his day napping. Silver Charm moved toward Blowen, who fed him a handful of Mrs. Pastures horse cookie crumbs before pouring the rest into a feed bucket. The oldest living Derby winner then wandered to his water trough, sipped and dozed off.

“He’s pretty predictable,” Blowen said. “He knows what he wants, and when he wants it.”

Welcome to Old Friends farm, a 236-acre (95.51-hectare) racehorse retirement community outside Georgetown, Kentucky, where champion thoroughbreds and lovable losers retire in leisure amid the splendor of Kentucky’s scenic bluegrass region, whiling away in the shadows of former glory, then posing for pictures with devoted race fans who — especially during Derby season — visit the farm.

The Derby will be held Saturday. At Old Friends, every day is Legends Day.

For $30, visitors take a guided, 90-minute walking tour while getting up-close looks at some of the farm’s most famous residents, including Silver Charm and I’ll Have Another, the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.

Blowen, a former Boston Globe film critic, started Old Friends in 2003 with a leased paddock and one horse. He was just getting started when news broke that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had reportedly died in a slaughterhouse in Japan.

“Because Ferdinand was a Derby winner, it made a huge difference,” Blowen said of his own campaign to provide a dignified and comfortable retirement for racehorses at Old Friends.

Today, about 250 former racehorses call Old Friends home, whether at the main farm in Kentucky or at three satellite locations.

In Kentucky, Silver Charm’s daily routine is simple: He poses for tour group photos and mingles with neighbors in adjoining paddocks after being let out into his football-field-sized paddock early in the morning. He prefers to return to his barn stall around 3:30 p.m., naps often, but can still break into an occasional run.

“He’ll come down that hill like he was opening the Lone Ranger show,” Blowen said.

Silver Charm has lived at Old Friends for nearly a decade. Attention paid to the 30-year-old Hall of Fame racehorse has come to symbolize the care thoroughbreds deserve in their golden years, long after running their last race or producing their last foal, said Old Friends CEO John Nicholson.

“He is a great reminder that at the heart of our sport, at the heart of the industry, is the horse,” Nicholson said. “He reminds us that the horse has given to us far more than we’ve ever given back, and that we should always try to give back.”

The fraternity of former Derby winners spans horse farms worldwide, including Kentucky, the sport’s epicenter. Once champion racehorses finish racing, stud careers typically begin in the hope that their bloodlines will preserve legacy, and net profit.

Silver Charm followed the same path. After a stellar racing career that included wins at the Derby, Preakness and Dubai World Cup — amassing earnings of nearly $7 million — his stud career started at renowned Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, after which he spent years in Japan.

Silver Charm was later shipped to Old Friends, where he’s become a beloved ambassador for the farm.

For a while, two of Silver Charm’s greatest competitors — Touch Gold and Swain — were his Old Friends neighbors. Touch Gold won the 1997 Belmont Stakes in a stretch duel with Silver Charm that denied him the Triple Crown. Silver Charm later defeated Swain at the Dubai World Cup. Touch Gold still lives at Old Friends but Swain died there at age 30 in 2022.

Not all Old Friends residents made it to the winner’s circle. Zippy Chippy, horse racing’s lovable loser for never winning in 100 races, spent his golden years in comfort at the Old Friends farm in upstate New York until his death in 2022.

“At the first part of their lives, they’re doing everything that people are telling them to do,” Nicholson said, adding that Old Friends relies mostly on donations to meet annual operating expenses that reach millions of dollars. “At this stage of their life, we’re doing everything they tell us to do.”

If there’s room, Old Friends tries to accept any thoroughbred that an owner wants to retire there, Blowen said. Owners must surrender ownership and deliver the horse. Old Friends only accepts thoroughbreds and says horses deemed at “great risk” and stallions being returned from overseas receive preference, according to its website.

As the face of Old Friends, Silver Charm symbolizes the life former racehorses deserve, Nicholson said.

“He was a great athlete but since then has been an ambassador for even a higher calling,” he said. “And I think that’s part of his magic.”

For tourist Susan Hale, seeing Silver Charm up close stirred memories of a hunch bet she made at the 1997 Derby.

“I went to the paddock as he was being saddled, and I said, ‘I’m going to put some money on that horse right there,’” Hale recalled of the bet she placed on Silver Charm that won her several hundred dollars and allowed her to pay for dinner with friends at a steakhouse later that night.

Silver Charm won the race in heart-pounding fashion — and a lasting place in Hale’s heart. A framed print of Silver Charm in his prime is displayed in her living room back home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“He’s actually why I’m here,” Hale said. “The other horses have been beautiful, too, but he’s my favorite.”

Still, Silver Charm’s most steadfast companion remains Blowen, the founder and retired president of Old Friends who can see his favorite horse simply by stepping out his back door.

“Think of the greatest thing you ever laid your eyes on and put it in your backyard, and then you’ll have an idea,” Blowen said of what it’s like to have Silver Charm as a neighbor. “Every day, I get that.”

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.