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SILVER CHARM: Kentucky horse racing’s oldest monarch

Alexandra Gooch
Silver Charm in his enclosure with a visitor on Saturday, February 24, 2024, at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. Photo by Alexandra Gooch | Staff

Silver Charm is one of the most successful and longest-reigning thoroughbred racehorses of his generation.

Boasting numerous great accomplishments under his saddle, Charm is certainly a more recognizable face in the horse racing industry than most.

Silver Charm in his enclosure on Saturday, February 24, 2024, at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. Photo by Alexandra Gooch | Staff (Alexandra Gooch)

At the age of 30, Silver Charm stands as a living testament to his enduring legacy, holding the title of the oldest living racehorse to have competed in and won two triple crown races.

Born on February 22, 1994, he entered the world as an unremarkable-looking colt. After a series of moves from one home to another, fate led him to Robert and Beverly Lewis when he was just two years old.

It was during the transaction of this $80,000 horse that the Lewis family would build a strong bond with Charm’s future trainer Bob Baffert, the man who would go on to transform Silver Charm into a champion.

In a profile done about Baffert in the Old Friends magazine, Baffert told the story of when he first saw Silver Charm in person, describing the foal as “narrow” and “splay-footed,” but said that he “had a feeling about him that (he) can’t really explain.”

A future racehorse has to undergo a lot of training to be well-prepared for the track. For a lot of horses, it takes years of training to become great and some don’t ever get there, but when Charm first stepped on the track Baffert said, “He acted like he had done it his whole life.”

As Baffert started training Silver Charm for the track, the horse gained strength in his legs and began to grow into his impressive frame, with people only then beginning to take notice of the potential that the horse possessed. None knew the racing monarch he would become.

Then, before anyone knew it, he was ready for the racetrack with an air of confidence about him.

“(Silver Charm) would stand in front of his stall and wouldn’t defer to anyone,” Baffert said in the profile.

From the beginning, his trainer knew that Silver Charm was as tough as he was resilient, and it was then just a matter of proving that to the people.

Silver Charm in his enclosure on Saturday, February 24, 2024, at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. Photo by Alexandra Gooch | Staff (Alexandra Gooch)

Silver Charm made his debut at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in San Diego where he took home second place. In the next three races at Del Mar and San Vicente Stakes, he came in first place every time.

His air of cool authoritativeness made Charm stand out from the crowd.

Although the beginning of his career was successful, he wouldn’t capture the hearts of racing enthusiasts until the 1997 Kentucky Derby.

Initially trailing in fourth place, he displayed extraordinary resilience, surging through the stretch to secure a close second position alongside Captain Bodgit. In a thrilling finale, Silver Charm emerged victorious by a neck, marking the onset of his legendary racing journey.

“(I) stood in front of Silver Charm’s stall staring at him for a long time,” Baffert said. “I was in awe of him, so proud of what he had done, and still in disbelief, really. I thanked him.”

Michael Blowen, founder and former president of Old Friends, a thoroughbred retirement farm, and a man who would become a close companion with Silver Charm in his later years, knew the horse was different from those around him.

“He wouldn’t let horses pass him, he just looked them right in the eye and wouldn’t let any of them pass,” Blowen said.

The allure of Silver Charm’s legendary gaze was nothing short of mesmerizing, as jockeys widely shared the unwritten understanding that, if your horse locked eyes with Silver Charm, defeat was almost inevitable.

The aforementioned Kentucky Derby win was ultimately the race that solidified the great and iconic partnership between jockey Gary Stevens and Silver Charm.

When questioned about any resemblances between Silver Charm and other horses he had ridden, Stevens’ immediate response was to gesture toward Charm’s head, emphasizing that intelligence was the distinguishing factor between a good horse and a truly exceptional one.

“Silver Charm’s breeding is mediocre, his confirmation isn’t very good so how did he do it?” Blowen said about the horse’s intellect. “He did it because he was smart and had amazing determination.”

In another thrilling showdown in the next race, the Preakness Stakes, the seemingly invincible Silver Charm clinched yet another victory, going head-to-head with his rival Free House.

Adding a touch of poetic justice, Silver Charm once again outpaced the fierce Captain Bodgit, leaving no room for doubt about his racing skills.

Baffert later described Charm’s racing career as a, “magic carpet ride.”

Silver Charm in his enclosure on Saturday, February 24, 2024, at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. Photo by Alexandra Gooch | Staff (Alexandra Gooch)

The fierce competition and triumphant outcome of the stakes solidified Silver Charm’s status as a true champion on the racetrack and a king in his field.

To further emphasize his prowess, Charm finished in the trifecta in 21 out of 24 races that he has competed in, winning half and placing top three in nine more.

Among his standout victories, he seized the 1998 Dubai World Cup and secured the aforementioned Derby and Preakness wins, though he lost out on his Triple Crown jewel when he came in second to Touch Gold in the Belmont Stakes by three-quarters of a length.

Furthermore, he has many honors to his name, including being inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 2007. Charm was also admitted as part of the 2014 inaugural class of Arcadia’s Historical Society’s Racing Walk of Champions.

The formerly unimpressive foal has also garnered close to seven million dollars in earnings on top of his achievements.

After an illustrious racing career, Silver Charm transitioned to stud duty at Three Chimneys Farm, where he showcased his exceptional pedigree for five seasons. Subsequently, recognizing his impressive genes, the Japanese Breeder’s Association acquired him for further stud service.

Silver Charm’s legacy is undeniably remarkable, boasting an impressive crop of 15 stakes winners and collecting a staggering $2 million in winnings. His impact on the world of horse racing continues to resonate through the achievements of his distinguished descendants.

In 2015, Silver Charm gracefully retired to Old Friends Farm in picturesque Georgetown, Kentucky. Blowen affectionately describes Charm’s retirement to a regal monarchy, saying, “He is the king and we are his serfs.”

People from all around the world come to visit Charm during his retirement, with the old man now relishing in the attention he receives.

His graceful presence at Old Friends Farm not only captures the essence of a racing legend in repose, but also serves as a source of inspiration for all who encounter this living symbol of triumph and grace.

To know Silver Charm is to love him and to be inspired by him, with the horse acting as an inspiration and icon to many, including Baffert.

“He taught me that pedigree isn’t everything,” Baffert said. “What he lacked in pedigree, he made up for in heart, which is something that can’t be taught.”

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    Debbie BrownApr 29, 2024 at 6:28 pm

    Loved this article about a great race horse!! Seems like he was loved by everyone around him, except of course, those horses he beat in races!
    Thanks Alex for a wonderful article and pictures of a true treasure! Beautiful Silver Charm!!!