Carved in stone: New grave markers for beloved racehorses

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Early Pioneer's grave marker at Old Friends is the first to be made permanent by the Kentucky Monument company.
Early Pioneer’s grave marker at Old Friends is the first to be made permanent by the Kentucky Monument company.

The final resting places of all racehorses who pass at the Old Friends thoroughbred retirement facility in Kentucky will be permanently marked with new granite headstones.

All horses who die while at Old Friends receive a grave marker, but only some receive permanent stone markers, said founder and president Michael Blowen. “They are quite expensive, so many that we do have were paid for by an owner or track connection or sometimes a group of fans. Some have even been contributed by our volunteers who were particularly attached to that horse.”

The new headstones are being donated by the Bardstown-based Kentucky Monument company, which specialises in granite headstones and personalized memorials.

The business is owned by Pat and Shannon Spalding. It was while touring the Old Friends facility that Shannon Spalding noticed the discrepancy in the grave markers. “We thought every one of these magnificent animals should have a fitting headstone, regardless of their track record,” Spalding said. “So we saw an opportunity to help, and to maybe inspire others to help.

“Every Old Friends retiree deserves a headstone that will withstand the test of time and be a tribute to their lives and careers.”

Kentucky Monument company has made a commitment to donate several granite headstones annually so that the all the horses currently interred will eventually have a fitting headstone.

Blowen said Old Friends was grateful for the generous donation.

Early Pioneer's new granite headstone is placed at his grave site at Old Friends.
Early Pioneer’s new granite headstone is placed at his grave site at Old Friends.

“The cemetery is a moving part of Old Friends’s very popular guided walking tours. When you are dealing with horses in their twilight years, death is a part of the circle of life here, and visitors find it very consoling to pay their respects. This will be a great honor to all of our retirees.”

Currently, there are 84 horses interred in the Old Friends cemetery; 32 of the graves do not have stone markers.

Three have already been set by Kentucky Monument: Ohio-bred millionaire Catlaunch, Turfway Park regular Easy Ellis, and Hollywood Gold Cup winner Early Pioneer.

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