Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints lend ‘Old Friends’ a helping hand

Dr. Christopher Johnson with Misszoey Belle after he saved the mare's life in surgery and was given an autographed football by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (WTVQ) – 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.

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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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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.