Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement facility based in Georgetown, KY., is tipping its hat to the NFL this week–especially to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Thanks to the Big Ten record-holder–who will kick-off against the Carolina Panthers in the first NFL Wild Card Round this Sunday–Old Friends was able to give a lasting gift to the equine surgeon who saved the life of one of its retired mares.
Old Friends is a non-profit sanctuary for more than 175 retired race horses, including two Kentucky Derby winners and numerous other champions. When one of its residents, Misszoey Belle, a 13-year-old mare, showed sudden and severe signs of a gastrointestinal disorder, it was determined that surgery was her only chance for survival.
A hard-knocker on the track, Misszoey Belle had 74 starts and 7 wins, earning only $70,000 in her career and racing until she was eight. She was bought back by her breeder, John C. Oxley (whose Classic Empire won the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile), and retired to Old Friends.
The mare was rushed to Park Equine Hospital at Woodford in Versailles, KY., which provides Old Friends with cost-free veterinary care. They quickly called in the on-call surgeon, Dr. Christopher Johnson.
The mare underwent surgery to repair a very serious intestinal obstruction known as an epiploic foramen entrapment. Her life spared, Misszoey Belle returned to Old Friends farm a few days later and is now recovering well with an excellent prognosis.
Knowing that Dr. Johnson was a huge Saints fan, Old Friends resident veterinarian, Dr. Bryan Waldridge, an internist at Park Equine Hospital at Woodford, offered Dr. Johnson a gift from the team as a special thank you.
“I went to high school in New Orleans, so I have been a Saints fan as long as I've been alive,” says Johnson.
Luckily, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson is also a well-known racehorse owner, and one of his former runners, Saint Aloysius, was retired to Old Friends after suffering a career-ending injury last year.
Old Friends founder and President Michael Blowen made a call to the Saints' office and Brees was kind enough to help out with an autographed football.
“We always love helping Old Friends and Michael,” said Greg Bensel, who manages GMB Racing for the Bensons and is also the Sr. Vice President of Communications for the Saints. “After all, he was there for us when we needed a good home for Saint Aloysius.
“Drew is so kind and giving with his time that when we need a signed ball he's always available to help,” Bensel continued. “And to be honest, he loves the horse-racing industry, and he loves that the horses at Old Friends get great care. So while he is busy planning for the Panthers game, I know he feels great about this.”
“It's really great to see professional athletes such as Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints helping our professional athletes like Misszoey Belle when they need us most,” said Blowen. “We can't thank the team, Dr. Waldridge, Dr. Johnson, and everyone at Park Equine Hospital enough.”
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