Rescued race horse 'Silver Ray' is headed home to a Kentucky shelter

Silver Ray's life is turning around.

When the former race horse that won hundreds of thousands of dollars on the track but sold for just $30 at an auction showed up at a horse rescue in Glendale last month, he was skinny and weak. His hip bones jutted out and his back caved in, his tongue flopped out because he was missing his front teeth.

After a few weeks at Polo Pony Rescue in the Riverside-Rancho neighborhood, his butt got fatter and his future brightened. In September, he is set to move to a coveted "retirement home" in Kentucky for thoroughbreds like him called Old Friends.

"If you were a horse and you could choose any place to live, I think Old Friends would be on the top of the list," said Cathleen Trope, the founder of Polo Pony Rescue, adding that the planned move is even sweeter since Silver Ray was born in Kentucky.

Old Friends is one of the few farms in the country that specializes in taking care of retired racing stallions and it has a long waiting list. But because Silver Ray's original owner has long helped Old Friends, which survives off donations and money raised from tourists visiting former racing champions, Silver Ray jumped to the front of the list.

"If anybody deserves a retirement at this place it's this horse," said Michael Blowen, who founded Old Friends more than a decade ago with his wife after they retired from journalism careers at the Boston Globe. "At one point in his life he was extremely competitive and really valuable."

Old Friends has 126 horses, which together netted about $100 million on the race track over the years.

"At the end of the day, [former race horses] don't have any Social Security or 401Ks," Blowen said.

There are many horses like Silver Ray who may start off with a good owner, but as they age and get sold from one person to another, their quality of life plummets. Some can fall into the hands of "kill buyers," people who snap up horses cheaply and then send them across the border for slaughter.

While horse slaughtering has officially disappeared from the U.S. landscape, there are still some in the business of shipping horses off to Mexico or Canada for meat consumption, and Trope fears that could have been Silver Ray's future. Blowen, a horse race enthusiast, said he was motivated to found Old Friends after hearing the "bloodcurdling" screams of horses being taken away after their time had ended on the race track.

Now that Silver Ray has a permanent home at Old Friends lined up, Trope has an open stall for another rescue.

"Every time we have an open stall it's like Christmas," she said. "I will not have any trouble filling it."


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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