Among the crowd that gathered to greet him on the tarmac were Michael Blowen, founder of Old Friends, Lori Neagle and Shon Wylie, co-founders of ReRun, and Walt Mates, a representative for The Exceller Fund. Also on hand were local NBC and ABC affiliates, newspaper reporters, photographers, and a large group of fans bearing carrots and peppermints. A member of the media commented that he hadn't seen so much commotion over a horse's arrival since Secretariat.
While several multi-million dollar stakes horses, including Congaree, were also being unloaded off the plane, all eyes were on Rich in Dallas, who placed second in a $2,500 claiming race at Los Alamitos in California on March 20. Even though he'd been traveling since 3 am, he was surprisingly fresh and alert, with his ears pricked forward, ready to meet and pose for the cheering crowd. "He looked like a million bucks," remarked Michael Blowen. "Cathy Riccio did a fantastic job of grooming him for his arrival."
To get Rich in Dallas from California to Kentucky involved extensive, and much appreciated, efforts from several companies and individuals including Hallie McEvoy, Tony Soto, Greg Otteson and Tex Sutton Horse Transport, Sallee Vans, Dan Porter Transportation, Fran Fitzgerald, Joan Ciampi, and many donors from throughout North America and the world.
"What amazes me is that it was exactly one week ago that The Exceller Fund received word about Rich in Dallas from Hallie McEvoy," remarked Melissa Miller, Vice President of The Exceller Fund. "The turnaround time has been phenomenal, thanks to the combined efforts and quick actions of everyone involved. We're thrilled with the cooperative spirit that came together to give Rich in Dallas a new home."
McEvoy, a public relations specialist and author, is also a Thoroughbred owner and breeder. She worked with Rich in Dallas when he appeared at the 2003 Metropolitan National Horse Show in New York City. "I am pleased that so many horsemen from all walks of life came together as one to retire this horse. It was truly the dedication of hundreds of donors and volunteers that got this job done," commented McEvoy. "Fran Fitzgerald deserves special recognition for tracking this horse and keeping me aware of his racing career." Added Lori Neagle, "We did this only because we care about the horse. It's incredible what horse retirement groups working together can accomplish in such a short period of time."
The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) stood ready to pitch in with additional help if it was needed. The offer of assistance was greatly appreciated, and while not needed in this instance, there will be plenty of opportunities for the TRF and these groups to work together in the near future.
"At The Exceller Fund, we feel each group has a place in the mosaic of rescue, rehabilitation, adoption, and retirement needs," said Bonnie Mizrahi, President of The Exceller Fund. "An open dialogue with the racing and breeding industry along with a workable plan for reasonable support can spell the end of the nightmare of betrayal for the Thoroughbred."
After his airport reception, Rich in Dallas headed to Afton Farm in Midway, Kentucky, home of Old Friends, in preparation for its open house on April 17. According to Michael Blowen, "He settled right in and he looked astonished, like he won the Pick Six. There were TV cameras and people all around wanting to get near him, but he handled it like a real pro. In many ways, Rich in Dallas is a symbol of what we're all trying to achieve, and he seems to sense this and is up for the responsibility."
After the crowds left, Michael helped take off his racing shoes. He stayed with him another few hours. "It was the perfect Kentucky day, 72 degrees and sunny. After about twenty minutes, Rich in Dallas took a deep breath and rolled around on the ground." Veterinarian Dr. Jorge Colon arrived at Afton Farm today to give Rich in Dallas a complete physical exam.
He'll soon continue on to his new permanent home in Maryland at ReRun's Greener Pastures. If physically capable, Rich in Dallas will be retrained by ReRun for a second career that will help to educate the public about the versatility of the Thoroughbred breed. His home at ReRun's educational facility will allow fans the opportunity to meet this movie star.
Donations to help sponsor Rich in Dallas should be made payable to The Exceller Fund and sent to Jean Hembree, 3572 Star Ridge Road, Hayward, CA 94542, or donations may be made online at www.excellerfund.org.