Former Derby, Preakness winner Charismatic dies

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Former Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Charismatic, whose bid for the Triple Crown ended with a dramatic leg injury as he neared the finish line in the Belmont Stakes, has died at a thoroughbred retirement farm in Kentucky.

The striking chestnut horse that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 1999 was found dead in his stall Sunday at Old Friends farm near Georgetown, Kentucky, the farm said.

“Right now, everyone is pretty much inconsolable,” Old Friends President Michael Blowen said. “He was a really tough horse and he deserved a much longer retirement. … Everyone at Old Friends takes solace from the few great months that this great champion gave us.”

The stallion ate all his food Saturday and looked fine, Blowen said Monday. The cause of death is unknown and a full necropsy was being done. The farm said Charismatic was 21.

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Charismatic arrived at Old Friends last December after a long stud career in Japan. He quickly became a favorite among the farm’s visitors in central Kentucky.

“He connected with people that would come here and tell us stories about what that horse meant to them when he won the Kentucky Derby, and then when he broke his leg in the Belmont,” Blowen said. “He was just a touchstone for people’s own personal history with horse racing that very few horses could match.”

The unheralded Charismatic ran in claiming races, then emerged unexpectedly as the best of the 3-year-old crop in 1999.

After winning the Lexington Stakes, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt won the Derby as a longshot. Charismatic followed up by winning the Preakness.

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Lukas recalled Charismatic’s success that spring as the perfect example of a late bloomer.

“He seemed uninterested in being a race horse when I first started him,” Lukas said by phone. “In fact, he didn’t turn the corner until March of his 3-year-old season. But once he got going, he stayed gone.”

At the Belmont, Charismatic led with an eighth of a mile to go, but took a bad step and fractured his left foreleg as Lemon Drop Kid swept by to win. Charismatic finished third.

Doctors said the fracture could have proved fatal had the bone broken the skin. They praised jockey Chris Antley for dismounting quickly and lifting Charismatic’s injured leg to take weight off it.

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“Fortunately, we had the right people there and he healed properly,” Lukas said. “He was OK after that.”

The horse underwent surgery and won Horse of the Year honors. He retired from racing with five wins in 17 starts with career earnings exceeding $2 million before starting his stud career in 2000, Old Friends said.

Old Friends is home to two other horses that nearly won the Triple Crown — 1997 Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm and 2002 Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem. The farm also offers a leisurely retirement for many also-rans on its rolling pastures in central Kentucky.