- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (AP) - Some were racetrack winners and descendants of racing royalty, while others were also-rans or never raced at all. All 11 thoroughbreds were remembered in a Memorial Day service in Kentucky horse country.

The horses died in the past year after being retired to Old Friends farm.

On a day to remember loved ones and military veterans, dozens of people gathered at the farm’s cemetery to pay tribute to their four-legged friends in a state that prides itself as the world’s horse capital.

It’s become an annual ceremony, a way for the staff and friends to formally say goodbye to the horses who lived out their lives on the retirement farm. The ceremony begins with a final “call to post” and ends with participants raising glasses of Kentucky bourbon to the departed horses.

“They were old friends, good friends, cherished friends who are now departed but live on in our hearts and minds,” Bill Mooney, a longtime turf writer, said before eulogizing each thoroughbred.

There were tears and laughter as some participants gave their own eulogies to their favorite horses.

The farm’s most famous resident, former Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm, stood along the fence of a neighboring paddock and looked over at the ceremony.

The horses were remembered for their personalities and quirks as much as for their racing careers. Some lived out their years at the farm after being saved from the slaughterhouse.

Creator, a striking chestnut who died at age 29, was known for his fondness of strawberries and pears. Flowers and strawberries were placed Monday at his marker that recounted his racing career.

Carole Oates, assistant manager at Old Friends, remembered the sweet disposition of Ava Lotta Hope, who died at age 27. Oates was presented a halter that was ordered for the mare but arrived after her death.

“I miss her little face,” Oates said.

For a while at the farm, Ava Lotta Hope - who won twice in 18 races and had little more success as a broodmare - was low horse on the pecking order in her paddock, getting picked on by other mares, Oates said.

Oates grew attached to Ava Lotta Hope and routinely gave her extra food.

“She would wait for me, and she would expect me to chase all the other mares away from her,” she said.

Ava Lotta Hope was moved to another paddock and bonded with the other mare there, Oates said.

Michael Blowen, the farm’s founder and president, became choked with emotion when mentioning Ogygian, who died at 31. The stallion was returned from Japan and became one of the farm’s foremost retirees.

Peter Willmott, a former owner of Williamstown, traveled from Chicago to pay tribute to the stallion, who died at age 25. Williamstown, a stakes winner in his own right, was a son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.

“He looked the part,” Willmott recalled. “He was a good-looking horse.”

The oldest horse honored Monday was Clever Allemont, who died at age 32.

The one-time stakes winner had a long stud career but in 2008 was found in a slaughter pen, skinny and missing an eye. He was rescued and sent to Old Friends, where he lived out his life.

Some of the horses remembered Monday had distinguished racing careers.

Prized, who died at age 28, won the Breeders’ Cup Turf and stood as a stallion at farms in Kentucky, California and West Virginia. Kiri’s Clown, a son of Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, won more than $1 million during his racing career. The stallion died at age 25.

Others were soon forgotten as racers but found a home at Old Friends.

Max a Million, a gelding who died at age 14, had 41 starts but won four times. Another gelding, Escapedfromnewyork, arrived at Old Friends unraced and unnamed as a 4-year-old. An online contest gave the horse his name, borrowed from a Kurt Russell movie. The horse died at age 10.

No matter their racing records, they all deserved to be remembered, Blowen said.

“They’re the essence of the whole sport,” he said. “Without them, there’s nothing.”

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