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He's a Champion of Racehorses

Michael Blowen provides sanctuary for retired thoroughbreds

There is passion in his voice when he relates stories about his beloved champions. Clever Allemont, for example, had won his first six races, and it was thought he'd be a favorite to win the Derby. Then the original owner sold him, and he never won another race.

"He disappeared, went into breeding programs for awhile," Blowen says. "A woman in Kansas paid $200 for him at a slaughter auction. She put him in a trailer in the middle of winter in Kansas, and by the time he arrived in Kentucky we thought we'd have to euthanize him. When he got off the truck, I felt so bad for this horse, all skin and bones, his muscles atrophied. Fortunately, we have a wonderful vet and he suggested giving him some time to recover.

"Now he's out on the field, gained 312 pounds. One eye works and he's deaf, but this horse is having a ball, he's a highlight of our tour and he loves children!"

Change of fate

Many horses aren't as lucky as Clever Allemont. The fate of those that no longer race or breed is not new. Horses who outlived their keep were flown to Japanese slaughterhouses. Now they're sent to Canada or Mexico — there are no U.S. slaughterhouses although horses can be auctioned for slaughter in the States. The trip in the van is long and punishing, and by the time the animals arrive at the slaughterhouse, Blowen says, "they're happy to get a bullet in the head."

While in their prime, thoroughbreds may also be castrated. "There are not many days I don't weep," he says.

When asked about horse racing, Blowen says he believes the sport could easily be improved. "Thoroughbreds shouldn't race on drugs, shouldn't be whipped. It's not that hard to fix," he says.

Yet, it's apparent that Blowen still loves the sport and the horses.

"My greatest thrill is in the morning when I get up and feed these horses and they run with me," he says. "Just the pure joy of it, because that's what they were bred to do, and they love it, they love it!"

Marlene Fanta Shyer is a writer in New York.

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