Winston, a miniature horse that served as a Kentucky Derby Museum ambassador for two decades, has died just days before the Derby.
The 24-year-old horse died suddenly from an infection in his abdominal cavity, Dr. Bryan Waldridge of Park Equine Hospital said in a statement posted on the Kentucky Derby Museum's website. He would have turned 25 on May 4.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Winston’s sudden passing,” said Patrick Armstrong, president and CEO of the Kentucky Derby Museum. “He was such a wonderful ambassador for the Museum, bringing happiness to thousands of visitors for 22 years. He will always be a part of the Museum’s story and he will always have a special place in our hearts.”
Winston retired from the museum in February and moved to Old Friends, a thoroughbred retirement facility in Georgetown, Kentucky, where he continued to greet fans and visitors, according to an Old Friends release.
In 1995 Winston was donated to the Kentucky Derby Museum, located at Louisville's Churchill Downs racecourse, as a 2-year-old. He was a visiting companion to more than 30 visiting thoroughbreds, including Derby contenders Perfect Drift, Phantom on Tour and Twinspired, as well as Kentucky Derby winner, Mine that Bird, Old Friends said.
His role as the Derby Museum ambassador allowed him to take part in many different events, including throwing out the first pitch at a Louisville Bats game. Winston also helped perform more than 10 marriage proposals with his "Will You Marry Me?" blanket.
"This has been so devastating to everyone at the farm," said Michael Blowen, Old Friends founder and president in their release. He added that the horse was a "joy to be around.”
The Kentucky Derby Museum and Old Friends say they will be working to find a final resting place for the famed miniature horse.
The 144th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville.