Bob Baffert turned down his first chance to buy Silver Charm, unable to get a vet’s OK. He wasn’t about to let a second chance slip away - and wound up with a colt on the verge of the Triple Crown.
On a recent morning at Churchill Downs, where Silver Charm trains, Baffert talked about fate. Several onlookers smiled and nodded in agreement.
The colt will try to win the Belmont Stakes next Saturday and become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
“Racing needs this desperately,” said Patrice Wolfson, who, with her husband, Louis, raced Affirmed.
It was just before Derby week in 1996 when Baffert turned down the chance to buy Silver Charm at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale in Florida because he hadn’t had a chance to have a veterinarian examine the colt. The trainer had left Churchill Downs to go to California and on the way back got stuck in a snowstorm in Utah.
When he returned to Louisville, he looked at video of the colt walking and working. He liked what he saw, but the sale was over.
“Oh no,” Baffert thought.
It turned out, however, that the gray didn’t bring the minimum price set by the owner, so the owner bought him back. When Baffert found out, he had Silver Charm examined and bought him for $85,000 for Bob Lewis, who along with wife Beverly races the colt.
Baffert has trained several stakes winners for the Lewises, although their most famous horses, such as Serena’s Song and Timber Country, were sent to D. Wayne Lukas. Silver Charm stayed with Baffert.
“I can find the runners,” he said. “Finding the people to put up the money is the hard part. I’ve made my whole career buying horses like this.”
Silver Charm won $700,000 in the Kentucky Derby, $488,150 in the Preakness and could earn about $500,000 by winning the Belmont. Should he win the Triple Crown, he also would get a $5 million bonus from Visa, sponsor of the three races. The victory would also mean much, much more in breeding.
After Silver Charm worked seven-eighths of a mile Wednesday at Churchill Downs, Baffert called Lewis and said, “Well Bob, he doesn’t look like a million, he looks like 5 million.”
Silver Charm will work for the final time on Monday and Tuesday, then fly the next day to New York, where he will try to make history.
“It would be wonderful,” said Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat, who ended a 25-year-old drought of Triple Crown champions in 1973.
Silver Charm is the fifth 3-year-old to take a shot at the Triple Crown in the Belmont since Affirmed. The other four were Spectacular Bid in 1979, Pleasant Colony in 1981, Alysheba in 1987 and Sunday Silence two years later.
It appears seven 3-year-olds will oppose Silver Charm. One rival will be Free House, the gray who has beaten the colt twice in five meetings. Free House finished third in the Derby and was second by a head in the Preakness.
“I think it will be between him and Free House - those two,” Baffert said. “We’re going to see a great battle again.”
Baffert is confident that once again in the battle of the grays, he has the right gray - and one reason is jockey Gary Stevens.
Chris McCarron rode Silver Charm in his first two starts this year when he won the 7-furlong San Vicente by 1-3/4 lengths over Free House and finished second, three-quarters of a length behind Free House, in the 1-1/16-mile San Felipe at Santa Anita.
McCarron, however, was leaning toward riding Ron McAnally-trained Hello in the Derby and when Baffert didn’t get a commitment by a certain date he got Stevens, like McCarron, a Hall of Fame jockey.
“Gary and (Silver Charm) just clicked,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden this horse had a lot of respect for Gary. He knew that when Gary was on his back he’d better go about his business.”
Stevens first rode Silver Charm when the colt finished second by a head behind Free House in the Santa Anita on April 5.
McCarron will ride the lightly raced Touch Gold in the Belmont. He also rode him in the Preakness when the colt finished fourth, less than 2 lengths behind Silver Charm.
Other probable Belmont horses include: Crypto Star, fifth in the Kentucky Derby; Wild Rush, winner of the Illinois Derby Irish Silence; and Mr. Energizer.