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Teamwork Brings Siphonizer to Old Friends

OCTOBER 24, 2008—It takes a village to raise a child and, sometimes, it takes a community of compassionate people to retire a racehorse.

On October 21st the 7-year-old gelding Siphonizer (Siphon—Thesky’sthelimit by Northern Prospect) was retired to Old Friends, the 92-acre facility in Georgetown, KY. The one-time Delmar Futurity winner ran his last race only three days before, finishing 4th in a $4,000 claimer at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. It was his 38th lifetime start and it added a small paycheck to his final track earnings of just over $313,000. That’s the end of the story

For the beginning, you have to go back to 2003, to the barn of Hall-of-Fame trainer Richard Mandella, and to his then-assistant trainer Becky Witzman. “He was a good horse and he was just one of my favorites,” says Witzman of the promising 2-year old. “He was very personable. He learned how to nicker for attention and carrots from another horse in the barn, and so every morning when I arrived in the dark I would hear him calling for a treat.”

Siphonizer had made an auspicious debut at Del Mar in August of 2003, winning his first race by 3/4 of a length. He sealed the deal with a solid finish in the Futurity, his 3rd start, under the control of jockey Julie Krone, and earned himself a spot in the Breeders Cup Juvenile—a race he lost to stable mate Action This Day, one of four Mandella trainees to earn a BC crown that day.

“I had been trying to watch him over the years,” says Witzman, who is now the producer of HRTV’s Race Day America. “And I just kept seeing him drop and drop and drop. Then, seeing him in a $4,000 claimer, I just thought isn’t this enough? So I called Michael Blowen and asked how a horse gets to Old Friends.”

Blowen, the founder and president of the retirement facility, was thrilled to give Siphonizer a home if Witzman could find a way to get him. “We just bought 40 additional acres at the farm,” said Blowen, “but we haven’t had the funds yet to complete the fencing needed to house more horses. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to retire a horse like Siphonizer,” he continues. “So I thought if Becky could make it work, so could I.”

Witzman contacted Iowa-based owner Maggie Moss for help. “She was just exceptional,” said Witzman. “Maggie had the horse at one point in his career and knew his whole story. She was willing to put up the money and claim him for us.”

To make the claim, Moss and Witzman then contacted trainer Steve Asmussen. “Maggie has horses with Steve all around the country,” says Witzman. “And the fact that he was willing to help us out with all that he has going on right now was just amazing.”

Asmussen was, coincidentally, saddling several starters at Remington Park that Sunday. He nevertheless took the time out from those obligations as well as from conditioning his two mounts scheduled to run in Saturday’s Breeders Cup Classic—including global champion Curlin—to claim Siphonizer.

All that stood in the way of a dignified retirement was the 800 or so miles between Oklahoma City and Lexington, KY. “Sallee Vans [the company that ships many of the Old Friends retirees free of charge] had a van going that Monday,” says Witzman, “but I couldn’t get on because it was a private van.” Not one to give up hope, Witzman called another friend, trainer Eoin Harty (who will send Colonel John to the BC Classic), and asked how he was shipping his horses from Remington Park that week. As fate would have it, the private van was booked by Harty, who was more than happy to give Siphonizer a lift.

The gelding arrived in Kentucky on Tuesday afternoon. He will board at Jude Feld’s Chestnut Farm in Versailles until funds are raised to complete the new paddock fencing at the Old Friends farm.

“This is an outstanding example of racing people coming together to do the right thing,” said Blowen. “And the fact that Steve Asmussen and Eoin Harty could take time out from their schedules just days before the Breeders Cup is truly amazing. We can’t thank everyone enough for their help and their commitment to the horses. Siphonizer will have a great home here at Old Friends.”

Witzman, for one, is delighted. “I’ve always thought about Siphonizer over these years,” she said. “I’m so glad Old Friends was able to take him. Give him a kiss for me.”

Located on 1841 Paynes Depot Road in Georgetown, KY, Old Friends is home to more than 28 retired Thoroughbreds, including 16 stallions. Among the many Champions are eight-time stakes winner Ruhlmann, Eclipse-winning turf horse Sunshine Forever, millionaire Flying Pigeon, and the great sprinter Ogygian. The farm is open daily to tourists by appointment. For more information on tours, booking rooms at the Old Friends Bed & Breakfast, or to make a donation call-502-863-1775 or see their website at http://www.oldfriendsequine.org


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