LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — He was born to be a star, his arrival awaited with all the anticipation of horse racing royalty. But he never made it to the race track, and over time, he and his story were largely forgotten. For 17 years he lived as a stallion in Virginia and Wyoming. He wound up, of all places, for sale on Craigslist.
But Thursday morning, thanks to the efforts of Old Friends Farm, author Laura Hillenbrand and others, Genuine Reward, the 22-year-old chestnut son of 1980 Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk, came back home to Kentucky.
The ambitiously named horse, the first living foal of Genuine Risk, the second filly ever to win the Kentucky Derby, arrived at Old Friends to little fanfare. But after his remarkable trip, Genuine Reward was welcomed as a genuine treasure by Old Friends president Michael Blowen and the staff at the Georgetown, Ky., retirement farm.
The arrival also was celebrated by one well-known fan. When Genuine Risk beat the boys to win the Kentucky Derby in 1980, becoming the first filly to do it since Regret in 1915, Hillenbrand was just a little girl, but remembered in a Facebook post over the weekend that, “Her performance thrilled me to my bones.”
A couple of weeks later, Hillenbrand, her brother and her sister went to Pimlico, where she wrote that they “stood at the finish line in a jubilant crowd, and watched Genuine Risk finish a gallant second in the wildly run and extremely controversial Preakness. She would finish second in the Belmont Stakes, coming so close to sweeping the Triple Crown.”
She was the first filly ever to finish in the money in the three Triple Crown races, and just as valuable, perhaps, was the inspiration she stirred in the little girl watching, who grew up to write, “Seabiscuit,” a New York Times best-seller. Hillenbrand’s interest in and support for thoroughbreds, and her writing about the industry, has been no small gift to the sport and its athletes. Even before she wrote two best-sellers (“Seabiscut” and “Unbroken,”), she wrote about issues in the thoroughbred industry, health advances, scandal in saddlebread shows and much more.
So when Hillenbrand saw a notice on Craiglist, of all places, that a horse named Genuine Reward was offered for sale for $500, it immediately got her attention — as it did many others around the country.
After her retirement from racing, Genuine Risk was bred to Secretariat, and fans waited for the offspring with unbridled anticipation. The foal, however, was stillborn. Genuine Risk was the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner when she died on a farm in Virginia at age 31 in 2008. In 19 years as a broodmare, Genuine Risk would produce only two living foals.
Genuine Reward was the first one, born in 1993, sired by Rahy. It was a national event.
Dan Rosenberg, who was the farm manager at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway when General Reward was born, visited Old Friends last week and remembered the excitement at the time.
“It’s like when Lisa Marie Presley was born,” Blowen said. “Dan Rosenberg . . . was here the other day and he told me it was unbelievable. ABC, NBC, CBS, New York Times, every newspaper, people all over the country were going crazy about this baby.”
But high hopes don’t always pan out in horse racing. Genuine Reward went to trainer Bill Mott. He trained in the same barn as the legendary Cigar. But he was unlucky. He had a breathing problem at age 2. He had a habit of “bucking his shins,” or kicking himself while running. Though he spent parts of two years in training, he never raced.
He bounced around several farms in Virginia until 2002, when he was sold to a farm near Sheridan, Wyoming, where he was used breeding polo horses, and lived by all accounts a good life, until he was retired.
“A very innocent woman, she needed to find a home for Genuine Reward,” Blowen said. “He had been breeding polo ponies and he had retired and she wanted to find a home for him. She had no idea what Craigslist is. In fact, it took her three days to answer my email because she was out herding cows in the mountains.”
A friend, meaning to help, had suggested that she put the horse on Craigslist.
“She had no idea,” Blowen said, “that $500 is kind of the magic number for the slaughterhouse people, or that she might be putting her horse in jeopardy at all.”
Blowen told her Old Friends would love to have the horse, and she agreed. At about the same time, Hillenbrand, a longtime supporter of Old Friends, called Blowen and explained how important Genuine Risk had been to her. She offered to pay all of Genuine Reward’s expenses, and the deal was done.
Now he’s back home in Kentucky.
“He’s here, he’s cute,” Blowen said. “He came here in unbelievable shape. He looks great. He had all of his shots. He didn’t have a scratch on him. They took really, really good care of him up there.”
And now, at Old Friends, he’ll no doubt be a center of attention, with many of the other retired dignitaries around the farm, thanks to a writer who never forgot one of her first thoroughbred loves, and many others who remembered him or his mother fondly, even though he never made it to the track.
OLD FRIENDS, in Georgetown, Ky., but with other properties elsewhere, was established in 2002 with the mission of providing a dignified retirement for thoroughbreds, champions and “unknowns”alike. It is supported through public donations. For more information on contributing to the work of the farm, visit their website here.
RELATED: Horse racing fans can relive American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run through Eric Crawford’s Free e-book, “American Pharoah: Snapshots from the Triple Crown.” For more information, click here.
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