Old Friends at Cabin Creek a Labor of Love

Thoroughbred retirees Red Down South (right) and Zippy Chippy enjoy life at Old Friends Cabin Creek. (Connie Bush)

GREENFIELD CENTER, N.Y. – Will’s Way is there, displaying the same stay-out-of-my-way attitude that allowed him to triumph in the Travers Stakes in 1995 and in the Whitney Handicap in 1997. When a television crew moved a bit too close some time ago, he reminded them that the paddock is his space – and definitely not theirs – by chomping on the camera.

Commentator oversees a nearby paddock, his chestnut coat resplendent in the afternoon sun. The hard-hitting New York-bred is 15 years old now, but he looks almost as robust as he did when he emerged as a two-time Whitney winner, in 2005 and 2008.

There is room as well for Zippy Chippy, one of the most beloved losers in racing history. He found all kinds of ways to fall short during the course of 100 career starts, dwelling at the starting gate, pulling himself up while others were in full flight, and even biting opponents. He is as contented and as docile as can be these days as long as his best bud, New York-bred Red Down South, is nearby.

Ten other retirees are living happily ever after at Old Friends at Cabin Creek, a reminder of the need for Thoroughbred aftercare and how blissful their lives can be if they are in the right hands. They could not be in better hands than they are with the husband and wife team of Mark and JoAnn Pepper and their dedicated corps of volunteers.

The tranquil scene brings to life the words of Michael Blowen. “We’ll take all of the horses people think are worthless and make them priceless,” he said after founding Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky.

Commentator kicks up his heels at Cabin Creek. (Connie Bush)
Cabin Creek, named for Bobby Frankel, the late Hall of Fame trainer, represents the first satellite division for Old Friends. Frankel, known for his love of animals, would surely approve.

The Peppers brought in their first retirees seven years ago. Their good work never stops. “You never have a sense of completion.” JoAnn said, “because there is always something to do.”

She admits that meeting the horses’ many needs can be exhausting. She would not trade it for anything.

“It’s also invigorating because of the people who come and fall madly in love with the horses and come back year after year,” she said. “Physically, it’s draining. Emotionally, it’s the most awesome job I could ever ask for.”

There are frequent opportunities to tour Cabin Creek while the summer meet is being conducted at nearby Saratoga Race Course. The experience provides fans with an opportunity to feed carrots or peppermints to horses that once thrilled them with their exploits. Zippy Chippy would welcome the same attention, even if his performances were less than thrilling.

“Once you get people here, they fall in love with the place,” said June Shaw, a volunteer. “They’re the ones who leave $5 or give $100 every Christmas. They do what they can.”

The cost of maintaining each horse is $15 per day, excluding urgent medical needs or other unexpected events that inevitably occur. For those who are unable to visit, donations can be made by visiting the web site, oldfriendsatcabincreek.com. Donations also may be made by mail. The address is Old Friends at Cabin Creek, 483 Sandhill Road, Greenfield Center, N.Y. 12833.

According to JoAnn, the hardest part of her job is telling an owner she cannot provide a home for a needy horse because she lacks the resources to do so. That happens much too often for her liking, at Cabin Creek and elsewhere.

“I don’t want to ever get in the position where I can’t do what’s best,” JoAnn said.

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