For trainer Bob Baffert, the second time was the charm in the Kentucky Derby - a Silver Charm.
One year after a disheartening nose loss by Cavonnier to Grindstone, the gray Silver Charm put the white-haired Arizona horseman into the Derby winner’s circle Saturday at Churchill Downs.
For a heart-stopping moment, the 44-year-old Baffert thought it was going to be 1996 all over again.
Jockey Gary Stevens put Silver Charm into the lead with an eighth of a mile to go, but favored Captain Bodgit was charging up on the outside and it appeared for a moment that he would blast by Silver Charm.
“When they came down the stretch, I thought, ‘Here it comes again. It can’t happen again,”’ Baffert said.
Silver Charm wouldn’t let it happen, keeping his gray head in front at the wire.
“In the Kentucky Derby, you don’t know who is coming,” said Stevens, who won his third Derby three days after being elected to racing’s Hall of Fame. “All you know is that they are coming. I thought about Bob and deja vu.”
Silver Charm was in striking position from the start.
“You dream of how a race can set up, and so this was a dream trip,” said Stevens, who was riding Silver Charm for the second time. He had first gotten on the colt for his second-place finish to Free House in the Santa Anita Derby on April 5.
“I have learned a lot about this colt since the Santa Anita Derby,” Stevens said. “He lost the battle in the Santa Anita Derby but we came back and won the war today. He wouldn’t even have blown out a match. That’s how fit he was.”
You could probably, however, have knocked Baffert over with a feather.
He called Cavonnier’s Derby defeat “the toughest loss I’ll ever have in my life. It was like losing a national title at the buzzer.”
Now Baffert may never top this.
“When they hit the wire, my whole body was numb. I’ll probably never experience that again unless I win the Kentucky Derby again,” he said.
When Silver Charm crossed the finish line, Baffert’s arms shot into the air and he waved his program, then turned and hugged 72-year-old Bob Lewis, who with his wife, Beverly, owns Silver Charm.
Captain Bodgit, who went off at 3-1 under Alex Solis, became the 18th consecutive beaten favorite. The last betting choice to win the Derby was also a gray, Spectacular Bid in 1979.
“We couldn’t quite get to that horse,” Gary Capuano, Captain Bodgit’s trainer, said. “Alex said he ran super: He got up next to that horse and the horse just dug in a little bit more and held us off. It was a great race, no complaints.”
Silver Charm completed the 1-1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02-2/5 under scale weight of 126 pounds and paid $10, $4.80 and $4.20. Captain Bodgit, who races with a bulging tendon in his left foreleg, was 3-1/2 lengths in front of Free House and paid $4.80 and $3.80.
Free House, who had beaten Silver Charm in two previous meetings, was ridden by David Flores and returned $5.80.
Pulpit finished fourth in the 13-horse field.
Completing the order of finish were Crypto Star, Phantom on Tour, Jack Flash, Hello, Concerto, Celtic Warrior, Crimson Classic, Shammy Davis and Deeds Not Words.
Pulpit led the field around the clubhouse turn, down the backstretch and into the final turn before surrendering the lead to Free House with a quarter-mile remaining.
At the quarter pole, Silver Charm was third, a half-length behind Pulpit, while Captain Bodgit was fifth, 3-1/2 lengths off the lead. Then Stevens, who won the Derby on the filly Winning Colors in 1988 and with Thunder Gulch two years ago, sent Silver Charm into the lead at the eighth pole and on to victory.