Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 22 Days to Go!!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 22 Days to Go!!

Silver Charm, the handsome grey that captured the hearts of many due to his courageous battles, was the first of trainer Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winners.   Foaled in Florida, the colt was by Silver Buck out of the Poker mare, Bonnie’s Poker. Bred by Mary Lou Wootton, the grey was sold for $16,500 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s yearling sale to pinhookers Randy Hartley and Dean De Renzo. They then sold Silver Charm for $30,000 to C.J Grey who tried to sell him in the OBS April 2YO’s in Training Sale. Unable to reach the $100,000 reserve that he had on the colt, he bought him back. Impressed by his workout, J.B. and Kevin McKathan informed Baffert of the colt, who in turn made a deal for Bob and Beverly Lewis to purchase Silver Charm for $85,000.  

Making his debut at Del Mar, Silver Charm ran second in a maiden special weight on August 10, and then two weeks later he broke his maiden at the same track. The grey went on to win the Del Mar Futurity on September 11, prior to being rested the remainder of the year.   Starting three times before the Derby, Silver Charm won the San Vincente, as well as placing in both the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. Heading to Churchill Downs to take on the Derby, the gutsy grey along with his trainer became media darlings.  

Silver Charm took on 12 other competitors in the 123rd Run for the Roses, a race that was deep in class. Silver Charm was the second choice behind Florida Derby and Wood Memorial winner Captain Bodgit. The other big competition in the race was the Santa Anita Derby winner Free House along with the Blue Grass Stakes victor Pulpit. Piloted by jockey Gary Stevens, the duo had a clean break and ran with the pack until they reached the backstretch when he started moving through the field. With an eighth of a mile left in the race, Silver Charm took the lead and held off the late charging Free House and Captain Bodgit, defeating that competitor by a head, in a time of 2:02 2/5.  

The win was the first for trainer Bob Baffert, who had lost the previous year’s Derby by a heart-breaking nose with Cavonnier, felling like he would be lucky if he ever made it back to the big race. Stevens earned his third victory, having been aboard the filly Winning Colors in 1988, as well as the 1995 winner, Thunder Gulch.   Two weeks later the public again made Captain Bodgit the favorite over the Derby winner, yet the result was the same. Silver Charm proved his tenacity when it came to head to head duels in the stretch again in the Preakness, when he refused to let Captain Bodgit pass him as the grey proved victorious once more.  

While Silver Charm was lucky in the afternoons, his mornings after the Derby were eventful. As he was preparing for the Preakness, he shied at a shadow that was across the track and dumped his exercise rider. Thankfully the colt didn’t run off, just cantered off on the outside rail until an outrider caught him. Then, as he was preparing for his run at history for the Belmont while training at Churchill Downs, the crowd that had gathered started to applaud for Silver Charm as he was galloping down the track. The noise spooked another horse, causing the trainee to spin into the oncoming path of the Derby winner, just grazing him in the process. Thankfully avoiding injury in both incidents, he must have used up his luck in the Belmont. Jockey Chris McCarron was aboard the new shooter Touch Gold, and knowing that he didn’t want to let Silver Charm see him coming, McCarron piloted his mount down the middle of the track. Silver Charm who was in the clear didn’t see Touch Gold until it was too late, losing his chance at the Triple Crown by ¾ of a length.  

Silver Charm was the first horse to have his final training throughout the Triple Crown series take place at Churchill Downs. Due to the popularity of Silver Charm and Bob Baffert, the trainer worked with Churchill Downs to open the grandstand so that the public could view the Derby winner in the morning.  

The Charm continued on to have an impressive racing career, with his biggest victory coming in the Dubai World Cup. After his 5YO season, the grey horse was retired to Three Chimneys Farm for stud duty, where he remained for 5 years. After his stint at Three Chimneys, the stallion was sold to the Japanese Breeders Association, with the buy-back return clause in place. In 2014 Silver Charm was pensioned and returned to the United States to reside at Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky. His dam, Bonnie’s Poker had been a resident there until she passed in 2010.

(Photo courtesy KDM archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum