Heaven and Hell

With ESPN’s impeccably researched documentary on the wild ride of Charismatic and Chris Antley, titled “Charismatic.” scheduled to air Oct. 18 on ESPN, here is a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most enthralling and bizarre Triple Crowns in history. When it was over it had left a trail of conflicting emotions – both scarred and uplifting.

The 1999 Triple Crown was made up of an odd cast of characters, proving that racing, like politics, makes strange bedfellows. There was Hall of Fame legend D. Wayne Lukas attempting to get a former claimer who had an aversion to winning to the Kentucky Derby. Somehow, a series of incidents brought troubled jockey Chris Antley into the picture. Antley had fallen victim to drugs and eventually a weight problem that forced him out of the sport for several years. This wasn’t Lukas’ type of horse or jockey. But despite the odd mixture of jubilation, reflection, tension, and indignation that accompanied this unholy alliance, here they were attempting to sweep the Triple Crown, something that hadn’t been accomplished in 21 years. Were the racing gods actually going to allow this mismatched trio into the pantheon of immortals?

On the surface, Antley appeared to be an amiable youngster who had proven his riding talents in the early ‘90s, winning the Kentucky Derby aboard Strike the Gold. But his eyes and facial expression appeared more of a façade, concealing some hidden demons. He always seemed to look through you and never at you and his words rolled off the tongue as if programmed by a computer.

This was a far cry from the innocent 14-year-old, who spent a good deal of his time fishing in the pond next to Elloree training center in South Carolina, owned by Franklin Smith, who took Antley in and introduced him to the world of horses and racing. Antley would ride his bike to the training center, where he walked hots and washed out the water buckets and feed tubs. As soon as Smith began putting him up on horses, he could see that the kid was a natural, with the rare ability to communicate with horses. He had come from a broken home and horses were his escape. After a few years, Smith sent Antley to his brother, Hamilton, who was a trainer on the Maryland circuit, and he quickly rose to the top of the jockey ranks. But with success came his descent into drugs. He ballooned to 120 pounds and began taking water pills to lose weight. As he put it, his body “became a sponge and slowly began to take the life away from me.”

But he was determined to change his life around and began exercising his way back to riding weight in an attempt to make a comeback.

Lukas was, well, Lukas; the most successful Thoroughbred trainer in history, with three Kentucky Derby victories already under his belt. Certainly, no one was confusing Charismatic, with only two claiming victories to his credit, to Winning Colors, Thunder Gulch, and Grindstone. But Lukas, who had the more talented Cat Thief heading for Louisville, was on a mission to unleash a hidden superstar from beneath the colt’s layers of baby fat.

Lukas, as always, remained cordial and cooperative with the media, with whom he enjoyed sparring. But a story in the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1996 calling him more of a marketer than horseman hurt him. During that time, Lukas referred to the media as cockroaches.

The path that led Charismatic and Antley to the 1999 Kentucky Derby was strange to say the least. As mentioned earlier, Charismatic’s only two victories came in $62,500 claiming races, one of which was on a disqualification, and Lukas and owners Bob and Beverly Lewis were fortunate not to lose him.

When Lukas dropped Charismatic in for a claiming price for the second time on Feb. 11, Mike Mitchell, California’s corporate raider of claiming races was all prepared to pounce on him. Several days before, however, Lewis had given Mitchell four free tickets to a National Hot Rod Association drag race. One of the NHRA participants was sponsored by Budweiser, of which Lewis was a major distributor. Because of that favor, Mitchell said there was no way he could claim one of Lewis’ horses.

Also with his eye on Charismatic was Thoroughbred owner William Wolford, who had been following the colt from his handicapping base of operations in Las Vegas. When he saw the colt entered for a price, he called his Kentucky-based trainer Paul McGee to tell him he was interested in claiming him. As it turned out, though, Wolford’s owner’s license in California had not yet been processed because the person responsible was on vacation at the time, so he was not eligible to claim the horse.

Charismatic continued to improve, finishing second by a head in the El Camino Real Derby and fourth in the Santa Anita Derby before springing a 12-1 upset in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland two weeks before the Derby.

Lukas was hoping to get Laffit Pincay, who had ridden Charismatic in the Santa Anita Derby, to commit to him at Churchill Downs. Athough Pincay decided to pass on the Lexington Stakes to ride in California, Lukas told him he could still have the mount in the Derby.

“Don’t worry about the Lexington, I’ve got Jerry Bailey to ride him, and he’s committed to Wordly Manner for the Derby,” Lukas told Pincay. “We’ll just put Jerry on him and go from there.”

The day before the Lexington, however, Lukas read in the paper that Pincay had accepted the mount on Event of the Year in the Mervyn Leroy Handicap on Derby Day. Lukas immediately contacted Chris Antley and told him, “Watch this horse tomorrow, you’ll like what you see. I don’t want you to come just to ride a horse; I think he’s got a legitimate shot to win the Derby.”

Each afternoon at 3 o’clock on the Churchill backstretch, Lukas would take Charismatic to a small grassy area outside his barn, near the gap to the track, and graze the colt. And each day he could see him blossom and get stronger. One afternoon in particular, Charismatic grazed contentedly, searching out dandelions and ripping them out by the root, as the sun illuminated his chestnut coat, emphasizing his powerful muscle lines.

“Would you believe this horse just ran and almost broke the track record?” Lukas asked, as he rubbed his hand against the colt’s neck down to his shoulder. “Look at him; there are no stress lines at all. He carries his weight like Secretariat. I guarantee you if he were to win this thing, and I know he’s probably nobody’s pick, watch out in the next two, because he’s one of those horses who will come back in the Preakness with a vengeance.”

With Lukas’ confidence running high, he wasn’t about to back down from his nemesis Ronnie Ebanks, agent for Vicar’s jockey, Shane Sellers. Ebanks knew how to push Lukas’ buttons and knew the trainer would never turn his back on a wager if you challenged him. Vicar had won the Florida Derby and was one of the most consistent 3-year-olds in the country. By the time Ebanks was through getting Lukas’ goat by knocking Charismatic, he had coaxed Lukas into a $2,000 bet, Vicar vs. Charismatic, horse for horse.

The following morning, Ebanks stopped by Lukas’ barn to remind him of the sucker bet he had made.

“I’m sure you came to your senses this morning and realize you’re in a financially bad situation,” Ebanks said to Lukas.

“No, no,” Lukas replied. “I don’t catch a soft touch like you every day.”

Ebanks was not about to let up. “I led you right into my trap,” he said. “I got you fired up, and I know if you get fired up, that’s the best time to get you in a bad bet. Let’s get it straight. We’ve got a $2,000 bet, horse for horse, whoever finishes in front of the other. Vicar against…how do you say your horse’s name?”

“Don’t worry,” Lukas shot back. “It’ll be a household name by Saturday night.”

The Wednesday before the Derby, Lukas’ training chores had just ended when Louisville veterinarian Kurt Oliver and his 12-year-old daughter, Libby, paid him a visit.

“Libby thinks Wayne hung the moon and swung the stars, “Oliver said.

Libby had a knack for finding four-leaf clovers and immediately went searching for one behind Lukas’s barn. A few minutes later she came running back clutching one and handed it to Lukas. All she said was, “Good luck.”

Lukas, amazed at the find, tucked it away in his wallet. Just before bringing Charismatic and Cat Thief over for the Derby, Lukas received a visit from Overbrook Farm yearling manager Bruce Jenson, his wife Nancy, and their 9-year-old daughter Kenzie. In 1995, Kenzie, suffering from leukemia, had undergone a bone marrow transplant, spending two months in the hospital.

Before going to watch the race, Kenzie asked Lukas if there was something she could take with her and hold during the race to bring him good luck. He reached into his wallet and took out the four-leaf clover. He wrapped it in paper and stapled the ends, then gave it to Kenzie, who held it all during the race.

Charismatic, with Antley giving him a flawless ride, charged to victory over Menifee and Cat Thief at odds of 31-1.

Following the race, Kenzie returned to the barn, still clutching the four-leaf clover. Kurt Oliver went over to her, kneeled down, and said, “You hang on to that and kiss it every night. Libby is 12, but she’s the luckiest person I’ve ever seen.”

Lukas, who had been elected to the Hall of Fame several days earlier, then autographed the paper containing the four-leaf clover and presented Kenzie with a rose from the victory blanket.

Nancy Jenson said, “I’m just so glad Kenzie is here to see this. Imagine, one little girl picks up a four-leaf clover and passes it on, and another little girl carries it on over. For Wayne to go out and win the Derby and also finish third is very special.”

Charismatic, despite wearing rundown bandages, came out of the race with a burned heel on his right hind leg. “It’s only a little one, we can handle that,” Lukas said.

As the crowd began to file out of Churchill Downs, in a quiet corner of the backstretch, Ronnie Ebanks was getting into his car. Now $2,000 poorer, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “All I can do is pay him and say, ‘Hail to the king.’ He got me again.”

One thing Lukas wasn’t happy about was Antley, high in the saddle, turning toward the grandstand and holding up his index finger…before the wire. He said if Antley did that again he would cut off his finger and put it in a jar of formaldehyde. When Antley showed up at the stakes barn at Pimlico, he told Lukas, “I hope you got two jars of formaldehyde, so I can hold two fingers up this time.”

Charismatic, meanwhile, continued to flourish, and just as Lukas had predicted, he actually was stronger for the Preakness and this time dominated his field, opening up a three-length lead at the eighth pole. He kept a safe margin to the wire, defeating Menifee by 1 ½ lengths.

Antley was nowhere to be found at the post-race interview. He had promised his old mentor, Hamilton Smith, he would ride a horse for him the race following the Preakness and he kept his word. It was after he and Smith had parted company years earlier that Antley became involved with drugs.

“If it wasn’t for the drug abuse he’d be in the Hall of Fame,” Smith said. “He never smoked or drank when we were together, but after I left to go back home he got in with the wrong crowd.”

After getting beat a half-length on Smith’s horse following the Preakness, Antley, noticeably disappointed he had let his friend down, dismounted and said goodbye to Smith, then headed up the stairs to the jockey’s room. Smith grabbed his leg and said, “Good luck up in New York. Give ‘em hell, son.”

Antley finally made his way to the post-race interview, accompanied by his father, Les, and stepmother Annie. Les still seemed in a daze as he tried to soak in all that was happening in his son’s life. Here was Chris, after years of torturing his body, on the verge of sweeping the Triple Crown.

“I’m just so proud of him,” Les said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world to see him come back from where he’s been. We saw what he went through and we’re just glad we could be there for him. He was depressed and disappointed in himself. After his weight problem, all he wanted to do was get back riding, but no one ever dreamed something like this would ever happen.”

When Antley arrived back at the stakes barn, he whispered in Bob Lewis’ ear, hoping no one would hear: “It’s scary, but when I pulled him up after the wire he wasn’t even blowing.”

Once again, however, Charismatic had burned his heel in the race, but it was superficial and easily treated. Lukas was amazed how well the colt looked after so many hard races in a short period of time.

Lewis kept thinking of what Antley had whispered in his ear and his confidence soared. “It’s ridiculous, I suppose, to say this, but I really believe this is a horse who is going to make history,” he said. “He’s going to make some real history.”

As the Belmont approached, Lukas became more and more attached to Charismatic. “I’ve come to revere this colt,” he said. “He’s taken me to places I’ve never been and he’s become very special to me.”

Although Lukas had won every major stakes in America, captured dozens of Breeders’ Cup races, and won an amazing six consecutive Triple Crown races, he had never felt the excitement of being one race away from sweeping the Triple Crown.

The night of the media party, Antley had failed to hook up that afternoon and evening with Ed Fountaine of the New York Post, who had been working with the jockey on a daily diary. No one seemed to know where he was. Finally, it was learned he was back in his hotel suffering from a cold. Because of his past history, the often-used cold excuse set off a warning flare.

The morning of the Belmont, however, Antley showed up at Lukas’ barn at 5:15, just as the sun was beginning to peak through the trees. He was all smiles and beaming with confidence.

“What a beautiful day,” he said. “I bet you see the largest crowd ever.”

He took a long, hard look at Charismatic, who was out grazing, and said, “I look around and I want to take a deep sigh. I remember not too long ago getting up on a morning just like this in South Carolina, taking off running, wondering if I’ll ever make it back. It was like it was just yesterday. Whew, you talk about extremes. One thing about heaven and hell, I’ve been to both of them. If I was attempting to get the ultimate feeling inside, this would be it. This would be heaven.”

But that afternoon would be the beginning of Antley’s return to hell.

As Charismatic drove to the wire through the wall of noise created by the 85,818 fans in attendance, he took a bad step. Shortly after crossing the finish line in third, Antley pulled him up and jumped off. He fell backwards on the seat of his pants, then scrambled to his knees and ran his hand up and down the colt’s left foreleg. Because horses have a very high pain tolerance and normally go into shock after a catastrophic injury, Antley gently lifted the injured leg off the ground to prevent him from putting weight on it and held it until help arrived.

Charismatic had suffered a condylar fracture of the cannon bone and a vertical fracture of the lateral sesamoid. As the scene was being played out, it was as if the life had been sucked out of the once jubilant crowd. Charismatic was led into the ambulance where he was treated with the anti-inflammatory drugs Butazolidan and Banamine and a mild sedative. He was returned to his stall and walked in calmly, then immediately went to his feed tub and nibbled on a few leftover oats. Lukas’ wife, Laura, fed him hay from his hay rack. Equipped with a ski boot brace, he peered over his webbing, nodding his head continuously.

Assistant trainer Joanne McNamara and fellow exercise rider Teri Berwanger stood at the far end of the barn, unable to comprehend how this could happen.

“He was the soundest horse we had in the barn,” McNamara said. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined something like this happening to this horse. You can’t believe how good he felt jogging this morning.”

The Lewises and their family arrived at the barn and were assured by Lukas the colt was doing as well as could be expected. When Antley showed up, Bob Lewis patted him on the shoulder and said, “Chris, good job of stopping him.”

Lewis began to well up with tears and told Antley, “After watching the film and seeing how you went down and tried to assist the horse and hold him up was just magnificent on your part, and I can’t begin to tell you how proud we are to have you in our association.”

Lewis couldn’t contain his tears any longer. He said to the normally emotional Antley, “You’re supposed to be the one with the tears, not me.” But Antley appeared to be more in shock than anything. His tears had flowed freely while being interviewed earlier on ABC.

At eight o’clock that night, long after everyone had left, over at the barn of the Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, Jose Santos Jr., son of winning jockey Jose Santos, had just finished giving Lemon Drop Kid a goodnight kiss on the forehead. The 4-year-old looked up at his mother and said all that needed to be said: “Mommy, guess what? Charismatic is hurt. Poor Charismatic.”

The following morning, Charismatic was resting comfortably as he prepared to undergo surgery later that morning. Lukas addressed a small gathering of reporters, then said, “Well, got to go to work and see if we can find another one.”

Unfortunately, the relationship between Lukas and Antley, which had begun to sour throughout the Triple Crown, hit rock bottom. Lukas said the rider never once called to see how Charismatic was doing and claimed his actions after the race, assisting the horse, were overblown. Whether it was Antley’s demons that Lukas could see beginning to resurface or other issues he had with him, he never spoke to him again. When Antley died, Lukas would not say anything good about him, feeling it would be hypocritical. When the producers of “Charismatic” contacted Lukas to be interviewed, he refused to participate.

The mystery behind Antley’s drug-related death in 2000, whether murder or accidental, was never resolved and became an ongoing story in the national tabloids. The Los Angeles County coroner ruled it an accidental overdose after the Pasadena police initially called it a homicide. Antley's wife, Natalie Jowett, was notified of the coroner's conclusion while she was in the hospital giving birth to the couple's child. The details of Antley’s death are delved into in detail in the ESPN documentary.

Charismatic recovered from his injury and was sent to Japan in 2002, where he currently stands at stud.at JBBA Shizunai farm for a stud fee $2,500. He covered 16 mares in 2010.

Lukas never did find another Charismatic. He did win two Breeders’ Cup races later that year, including the Classic with Cat Thief, and won the Belmont Stakes with longshot Commendable the following year. But he has trained only one other champion -- Folklore -- since, cutting back on his once expansive operation.

The 1999 Triple Crown campaign will be remembered for its three unlikely participants that joined together for a brief moment in time and came within one second and a near-fatal injury of achieving immortality.


Leave a Comment:


Hi Steve!  Didn't Lukas train Folklore in 2005 to a championship? She won the 2005 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

02 Oct 2011 10:16 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Hell of a story.

02 Oct 2011 10:52 PM

This question is totally unrelated to your blog, but just heard sad news about Peppers Pride and need confirmation please. Thank you.

03 Oct 2011 12:23 AM
The Deacon

What an amazing article Steve. This brought tears to my eyes and all the emotions I felt that June 1999 day at Belmont Park resurfaced. All I can say is wow, how do you continue to do this, write like this, from your heart and soul. I wanted so badly like so many for Charismatic to win the Triple Crown. I felt cheated when Real Quiet got nipped at the wire(still think he won). What a troubled soul Chis Antley had, sometimes those demons just take hold and don't let loose. The 1999 Cerby and Preakness reminded me of the Canonero II fairy tale many years before but this story ended so sadly. May Chris rest in peace, I hope he is home with the good Lord watching down on us....... Maybe Lukas will never have another champion, but for the sake of the sport, I hope he does........

Thanks Steve so much for sharing.......

03 Oct 2011 1:27 AM

Steve, this is another beautifully written piece, so in contrast to the sad story it describes. It's tragic that Chris Antley, so giving to Charismatic when the horse broke his leg, was unable to navigate the internal journey of his own demons.

03 Oct 2011 2:50 AM
Steve Haskin

Thorogreats, Yes, I meant to make that change on Folklore. Thanks for reminding me.

03 Oct 2011 8:42 AM

Anyone interested in this story should read Three Strides Before the Wire. My favorite racing book.

Chris was so talented he was one of my favorite jockeys so I drove to NY for that Belmont. Once the horse was injured you could hear a pin drop. I have never been to a race where nobody cheered for the winner. I watched Chris walking to the jockeys room, tears streaming down his cheeks. He was never the same. Failing to win the triple crown broke him. Ironic that in this story the horse survives the man. Too bad he could not overcome his addictions. I understand Lukas's feelings horses are so honest and people are not so much.

03 Oct 2011 9:37 AM
Nip Nip

Steve, will this be available for purchase also? This is a riveting story and a hell of a roller coaster ride.

03 Oct 2011 12:52 PM

A very touching article. Brings back wonderful memories and sad memories.

What time will the documentary air?

03 Oct 2011 12:54 PM

I am glad I know to keep an eye out for the documentary now. Such a sad ending. The last great horse for Lucas, a terrible injury at the peak of a talented horses career, and the tragic end to Chris Antley. Just when we were hoping he was making a recovery and was coming back into success. I remember being happy to see Antley, watching the interviews on tv I was hopeful, had been wondering what had happened to him after his 91 Derby. I was so hoping to see the brilliant chestnut make history finally, for Lucas and for us all. He saved that horses life and it wasn't enough for him in the end. Poor Chris.

After such a long reign over the Triple Crown, it's always sad to not see Lucas on Derby Day. And Bob Lewis, a sad loss for the sport. I would see how Lucas would be upset at Antley for dismissing Lewis' words, downplay his saving the horses life because of his own demons. To not even want to participate in the documentary says quite a lot. After his son Jeff Lucas was terribly injured, the Lucas barn was never the same. Mary Lou Whitney and a few others try and give him some young prospects. I do hope there is just one more Charismatic left for him.

03 Oct 2011 12:58 PM
Linda in Texas

The best part of the entire glad and sad real life story is that "Charismatic" lived through his injury. "Took a bad step" is a saying i have come to abhor, Banned took a wrong step, too and was not so lucky. Rest in Peace.

Life has a way of teaching us lessons, some of us eventually come around and learn them, but for other's it is not so easy.

Not knowing Mr. Antley i would never post a thing as to what i think could have happened. Drug abuse and alcohol abuse have the same sad endings and both i consider are diseases sent by demons and they are hard to destroy. They will take their toll. Perhaps Chris was hoping above all hope that he could win The Triple Crown and when he didn't and Charismatic was injured it affected him beyond redemption. It was the straw that broke his spirit.

Deacon - your remarks were heartfelt also. And your mention of Canonero II reminds me of Steve's wonderful story about him, though sad at the end, Steve showed with his insight put to words how Canonero II brought an entire country to have hope.

Thank you Steve.

03 Oct 2011 1:09 PM
Susan from VA

Another wonderful read!  

03 Oct 2011 1:41 PM

  Everyone tends to forget how young these horses are.  One bad step, a small, unseeable flaw, a tiny bit too much work, almost anything can lead to disaster.  Charismatic and Chris Antley have always haunted me.  I don't care what Lukas said, Antley's ability to get off the horse and grab the leg the way he did, as quickly as he did was amazing.  

Incidentally, did anyone but me notice that in the movie "Seabiscuit," Gary Stevens, as George Wolf, jumped off Sea Biscuit when he was injured in the Santa Anita Handicap and grabbed his leg in an exact recreation of what Antley had done?  I am sure this is not what actually happened but rather, was a tribute to Antley.  

03 Oct 2011 1:45 PM


I love Charismatic. He is a beautiful animal. Just wish he wasn't in Japan. That's tragic.

03 Oct 2011 2:30 PM
Linda in Texas

tonka - i hope that from sweet Ferdinand's horrific end that all owners, trainers, buyers, users, of any thoroughbred horse have learned that in America at the end of a career, we want our horses back and will feed and care for them.

Hopefully just hopefully Japan will let someone know when Charismatic is no longer useful.

It is my silent mission,which has to be verbal once in a while. It started when i was in grade school

And i might add, that now when thoroughbreds are sent/sold to other countries, many sellers are having a "return to America" in like words clause written into the contracts.

I would be remiss to not mention a champion and endless supporter of thoroughbreds NOT going to slaughter who is a dear lady by the name of Mrs. Mary Lou Whitney. And i thank her from the bottom of my heart and i know i speak for all who find it repugnant.

Thanks Steve. Off my soapbox for a while.

03 Oct 2011 2:55 PM


You have such talent in writing...thank you for the tribute to Charismatic and the 1999 Triple Crown races.  Charismatic was my "under dog" pick to win, and when he won the Derby, I was sure he would go on and win the Triple Crown.  I got tix to see him at the Preakness, and when he won, I had to go to the Belmont to see history in the making...it was my very first Belmont, and I've been going to the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont ever since!  I cried all the way home after that race, and couldn't wait for the news that Charismatic survived surgery and would live!  Sad that he went to Japan, and I try following the few Charismatic bloodline horses that race here in the states.  My very favorite horse of all time is the Great Seattle Slew, but right up there w/him is Charismatic.  I have many signed, beautifully framed photos of Charismatic and Slew...they are the center of my "shrine" to my favorite Thoroughbreds and my favorite sport, Thoroughbtred racing.

03 Oct 2011 4:09 PM
The Deacon

So true about these awesome horses, one bad step and it's lights out.

This weekend alone, we lose Cape Blanco and Life at Ten (expected) to retirement, Blind Luck is shelved, who knows what is wrong with her and Fleet Indian dies. It's the best of times and the worst of times. So many stars lost this year, maybe the industry will wake up and take a look at the drug use and breeding. race horses have always been frail by definition, but not to this extent.

Thanks again Steve for a great article.............

03 Oct 2011 4:22 PM

I read where Mr. Blowen has been in contact with the Japan owners about Charismatic and War Emblem. Hopefully they will be able to come home to Old Friends. If they don't and something happens to them. Theses horses need to stop being sold to them. I don't care how much money is involved.

03 Oct 2011 4:28 PM
Margaret Ann

I am still sorry for the way Chris Antly died, the way he fell appart.  I have had several family members who are alcoholics, only one has "beaten" it and has a good life today.  "Why" some people are addicts is an answer beyond me. But I stopped being a fan of Chris Antly's the day he spouted off againest Strike the Gold.  He knew how to beat that horse.  All of us have our "foot in mouth" moments, some never get over it.  God knows I've sent a few prayers for Mr. Antly and shed a few tears for him before and after he died.  He had such talent.  

I keep wondering if some of the problems, the weight problems that jockeys have, wouldn't be better addressed by raising the weights on the horses.  Larry Jones exercises his horses and they carry him well, not that I think he should be the jockey for the race. From many jockey's stories, making the weight has been the start of a drug problem.  I guess the saddest part of this story is truly, what might have been.

Since Ferdinand and Exceller, haven't many horses sold overseas had a "return" clause ?  If no longer wanted, needed by the buyer, the seller will take them back ?

03 Oct 2011 5:09 PM
Dawn in MN

Mr. Haskin,

Thank you for letting us know about the ESPN story.  I read Three Strides Before the Wire.  It is a sad story, and as many people have commented Chris Antley was suffering in his own way when Charismatic suffered the injury that cost him the Belmont.  I appreciate your commitment to writing about this sport, the good, the bad and the ugly.  You make an important contribution when you make people aware of this story and remind those of us who knew about it.  Those who do not remember are doomed to repeat, and the story will reach someone who needs it each time it is told.  Linda in Texas, can I borrow the soap box?...I was shocked and more than a little worried when I read that Charismatic only covered 16 mares in 2010 and that he stands at stud in Japan for only $2,500.00 dollars. I really hope they send Charismatic home when his days at stud are done.

03 Oct 2011 5:22 PM
Karen in Texas

Thanks for recounting the story of Chris Antley and Charismatic for us, Steve. I remember that 1999 Triple Crown run very well, the apparent tension between Lukas and Antley, and the abrupt ending to the quest with Charismatic's fracture in the Belmont. I was able to meet Chris Antley at Lone Star Park's jockey challenge later in June, 1999. I had with me my May 22 print copy of the Blood-Horse magazine featuring the Preakness victory on the cover, with Antley indeed holding up two fingers! Inside the magazine Chris autographed the page containing the official Preakness write-up for me--that article was, of course, written by Steve Haskin. That Chris Antley would not live much longer was inconceivable at the time. Life  is such a journey of unpredictable events.

Linda in Texas---I believe that the Lewis's were among the first owners/sellers to insist upon a buy-back clause in their sales contracts. I bet we see Charismatic again here in the U.S.--maybe at the Kentucky Horse Park!? Maybe Old Friends?

03 Oct 2011 5:44 PM

OuijaWest- Regarding Pepper's Pride, according to Joe Allen, she is doing just fine.  No problems he's aware of.

03 Oct 2011 6:41 PM

Steve, I admire both Antley and Lukas. They were 2 ships passing int the night at the wrong time. I would love to know why Wayne has been bitter for so long[my take]...I am sure Dwayne has  run across "characters" that have tested his will and way of doing things before[friend of Bobby Knight...hmmm]...but also very successful. With the guys that worked for him and are now top trainers in their own right is staggering. He must be very proud.Antley...I can still see him walking over to his mom and pop and girlfriend at the Spa on his way out to the walking ring[when the Jocks came out by the Carving Board]...they were having a ball.I remember when he and Herb McCauley used to do battle[and later Julie Krone]. My point, 2 stong personalities, where their stars were crossed. I am but a fan, but will forever remember Chris dismounting and "taking care" of his mount just past the wire.What happened in early 2000 will never be solved, but I would hope as great a trainer Mr. Lukas' is, he can find peace and understand that the thoroughbred world is filled with paradox, and Chris Antley found himself wanting so bad to be an important part of that pressure packed universe.Thanks Steve.

03 Oct 2011 7:52 PM


Your ability to bring the past to us in timeless stories such as this one is remarkable. Truly great. Thanks for the memories.


03 Oct 2011 8:24 PM

Another touching story Steve!!  Thank you!    FYI to everyone, Steve wrote a book called "Tales From the Triple Crown" that I purchased from Exclusively Equine that is excellent!  Hope you don't mind the plug Steve but I thought those who don't know about it but love your writing like I do, may be interested.  And by the way Steve, we need more books - still waiting for you to write the Zenyatta story as I don't think anyone else can do it justice!

03 Oct 2011 8:54 PM
Paula Higgins

Steve, I was watching Dancing With The Stars (yes, it's true) and I was so enthralled by you story I missed the last dance. You are simply amazing. Charismatic was a wonderful horse. But Chris Antley's story makes me sad beyond words. What a waste of a human life.

03 Oct 2011 10:10 PM

The ESPN/ABC dvd hosted by Jim McKay entitled "40 years of Glory" has a 10 min segment on horseracing, 4 min of which is dedicated to Antley and Charismatic.  Chris actually kisses Lukas' hand in the Ky Derby winner's circle.  I wasn't aware that those two were at odds, that couldn't have helped Antley's situation any.  

I think of Charismatic every time I see Jim Barnes saddling a horse for Baffert in So Cal.  He led Charismatic into the paddock prior to the Belmont Stakes and led a the limping colt back to the barn afterwards.  I would have liked to have learned more about his role.

03 Oct 2011 10:51 PM

Don't know if it's appropriate, but here is a link at a community page with some absolutely gorgeous pictures of Charismatic.  He is so beautiful...takes your breath!


Thanks for a wonderful article, Steve.  Very moving.

03 Oct 2011 11:28 PM

The only horse picture I have is a Kentucky Tavern 18 1/2" x 15" photo of Charismatic crossing the finish line in the 1999 Ky. Derby. Chris Antley is holding his left index finger up. Looks great on the wall.

03 Oct 2011 11:31 PM
Linda in Texas

Karen in Texas - i would have no doubt that Michael Blowen is on top of Charismatic. We got Noor back from California and like you and so many, i never forget Old Friends.

When Michael sends a distress call,i have helped as i know you do also.

Good people for sure with big hearts who post here on Steve's Blog because Steve is all heart and he is not afraid to share it

with all of us. Thank you Steve.

Deacon, your words are so true, i

search each day hoping i will not find that another great giant or gentle broodmare has been euthanized. It is a good day when i see no mention of one leaving for

their golden hay in the clouds.

Have a nice day everyone and Deltalady, if Steve allows me to say some of the things i come up with, believe me he welcomes your comments and nothing is off topic to him if it has anything to do with horses or horse racing.

04 Oct 2011 9:04 AM
Bill Two

Remarkable story, Steve.  It's interesting to note how unusual this situation was for D Wayne. Not his kind of horse nor his kind of jock.  Very sad about Chris Antley - he had a world of talent, but couldn't escape his demons.  Saw him ride when he was coming up in Maryland and thought he had a bright future. He probably would have wound up in the Hall of Fame had it not been for drugs.

04 Oct 2011 9:41 AM

I highly recommend Elizabeth Mitchell's extraordinary book, "Three Strides to the Wire: The Dark & Beautiful World of Horse racing," on Charismatic, Chris Antley, & the world of thoroughbred racing.

Mitchell's book provides much more on the subjects mentioned, particularly about Charismatic, Antley, & Lukas's antipathy towards Antley.

04 Oct 2011 10:11 AM

Thank you Steve for once again invoking such intense memories and emotions surrounding this classic racing moment. I cannot think of these events without tears and remember: Lukas' smile and pride at Preakness-time; how happy everybody in the racing fraternity was to see the Lewis' with a champion again, also to hope that Chris was finally defeating his demons with his talents allowed to shine.

To this day I have up a copy of PEB's picture of Charismatic crying at Chris' grave, his left leg (wrapped to symbolise the injury)draped over the tombstone. Under the picture I have Lenny Shulman's quote, "Chris Antley, a rider with divine talent whose career was hampered by human imperfection."

Chris had the most beautiful blue eyes that would look into your soul when he talked to you, something I will never forget.

Charismatic had the most beautiful copper-coloured coat - just like a chestnut should be - with lots of gleaming chrome. Flashy but backed up with talent and spirit.

It is always a pleasure to read your articles Steve, thank you for bringing back great moments, and adding to them. People like talking to you, and you also have a remarkable ability to ferret out special tidbits of information that add great depth to the stories.

04 Oct 2011 1:36 PM

Riveting story, Steve. Was not aware of the upcoming ESPN documentary. Will certainly watch. The Triple Crown episode appears to have been too much of an emotional roller coaster for the fragile, recovering Chris Antley. That was a particularly haunting comment you made when describing the day of the Belmont: "But that afternoon would be the beginning of Antley's return to hell." Was curious though why you did not flesh out more what went on to, as you say in the piece, "sour" the relationship between Antley and Lukas. Like some more perspective as to why Lukas came to the point that he could only denigrate Antley, even to the point of trying to minimize the rider's actions on the track with Charismatic after the finish of the Belmont. Certainly without Wayne's input in the ESPN documentary the story is incomplete, but can understand why Wayne would not want to get into it in an honest fashion after Antley's tragic demise. Lukas was beginning the descent into a hell of his own as Cat Thief, loose on the track, almost took his son Jeff's life. The incident did cost Jeff his career as a trainer, and Lukas' now scaled-back operation has never been the same as he's fallen on much leaner times without the expertise of his business partner-son. Maybe there was no better horseman than Jeff in the country under whose tutelage Todd Pletcher, Kirian McLaughlin, and Dallas Stewart were prepared for their rise to prominence as elite American trainers. Know ESPN has done a documentary on Jeff.  Hope the one on Antley is of comparable quality, but it will miss the input from Wayne Lukas. Its sense of completeness can't but suffer as a result of his absence from the documentary. Understandable though that Lukas finds both hypocrisy and railing against a demised rider who's not hear to defend himself equally distasteful. A follow up piece on what happened to Wayne Lukas after Jeff's tragic accident with Cat Thief and it's effect on Lukas' training career would make equally riveting reading.

04 Oct 2011 3:21 PM

Terrific article, Steve. Even though Charismatic and Chris Antley were only together for a short time, they will forever be linked in history. Looking forward to the documentary on ESPN.

04 Oct 2011 4:54 PM

MemoriesOfP:  You have your horses mixed up.  There was no "tragic accident with Cat Thief".  Jeff Lucas was injured by Tabasco Cat in 1993, long before Cat Thief's 1999 Triple Crown campaign.

04 Oct 2011 8:45 PM
Karen in Texas

Will---The horse that became loose in the barn area and injured Jeff Lukas was Tabasco Cat. He then went on to win the 1994 Preakness and Belmont for Team Lukas. Jeff was back to the track to saddle Thunder Gulch for the 1995 Derby. Lukas then won the '96 Derby with Grindstone and the Belmont with Editor's Note. So, there were a few good years after Jeff's injury before both Charismatic and Cat Thief came around as three-year-olds in 1999.

04 Oct 2011 9:32 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

I watched Charismatic's Belmont in a little casino in Deadwood, South Dakota.  Very sad and upsetting.  Until I read your article, I didn't remember who won the race.  But I certainly do remember Charismatic,  the accident and Chris Antley's actions which I thought were wonderful.

04 Oct 2011 10:44 PM

Karen in Texas and TabCat: Correctamunda. I had too many "Cats" on the brain and confused the two horses.

05 Oct 2011 9:14 AM
steve from st louis

Heartbreaking story all around; I remember Lukas' attitude towards  Antley after his death and although I had negative feelings about the "Coach" as many members of the press had, I respected his silence when asked to comment.

Antley's story reminded me of another jock with whom I was personally close, Doug Rolfe, one of the nation's top apprentices in 1978, from small Fairmount Park outside St. Louis, to the Chicago tracks and finally at NYRA tracks who killed himself about four years later because he was in depression about making weight.

These riders have so much pressure on them both physically and mentally it's a wonder more don't fall into drugs. I remember reading a story about Lafitt Pincay, who also fought weight for such a long time. But the Pirate was so determined. On one of his many cross-country plane rides, he would eat one-half of one peanut while sitting for the first three hours and the other half upon landing for his dinner.

05 Oct 2011 11:14 AM
Linda in Texas

AngelaInAbilene - is the Joe Allen of whom you speak regarding Pepper's Pride the king of barbeque in Abilene? Or is it a different person? I was a follower and still am of Pepper's Pride, i drove to New Mexico to watch her run her 19th consecutive win race. And i have followed her journey, but i always wondered which Joe Allen owned her.

Thanks, Linda

05 Oct 2011 12:51 PM

Another gem, Mr. Haskin.  Linda in Texas, I mirror your sentiment reguarding these athletes and how they should be treated.  Every sport has it's dark side, but none darker than this.  Things seem to be moving in the right direction, though.

05 Oct 2011 5:59 PM

Love your writing and the story of very memorable characters of horse racing.  

I surely hope Charismatic and War Emblem make it back to the U.S. along with others on your blog.  Its certainly the right thing to do, just have to feel a little uncertain.

05 Oct 2011 6:07 PM

Mr.Haskin ~ Thank you for writing about and reminding us of the memorable and unlikely quest for the Triple Crown in 1999.  I was caught in the spell of Charismatic and Chris Antley, not unusual since I always have a soft spot for the underdog.  They certainly made for a stiking pair, Charismatic with his shining copper coat and flashy chrome and Chris with his boyish face and bright blue eyes.  Like many, I was hoping for the fairytale ending that in real life is so elusive.  The image of Antley holding Charismatic's leg at the end of the Belmont is ingrained in my memory, a racing memory never to be forgotten.  That image won “NTRA Moment of the Year”, an award for sport's photograph of the year.

Many TC crown campaigns become a blur in my memory with the passage of time but Charismatic's stays with me.  

I remember Jerry Bailey commenting that Charismatic looked rank in the race, that he ran right behind Silverbulletday, much closer to the lead than his usual running style.

I also remember that it seemed strange that Bob Baffert elected to run Silverbulletday(SBD) in the Belmont after her owner said he would not run in the Belmont.  She was kept out of the Preakness to protect her because she had the outside post.  It struck me at the time that perhaps SBD was used as the spoiler for Lukas's potential TC.  Don't misinterpret this comment, I have always liked Bob Baffert but did wonder why he thought the KD & Preakness were too tough for his filly but decided to run her when Lukas had a potential TC champion.

I've read all of the comments posted thus far and no one mentioned the SBD factor and Jerry Bailey's comment so I thought it might add to the discussion.

In conclusion, I enjoy reading your journeys down racing's memory lanes.  I remember with fond appreciation and nostalgia your great columns about Zenyatta last year.  She's a hard act to follow, isn't she?  Thank you again for your fine writing.  

06 Oct 2011 12:04 AM

TabCat - pay attention. I did not mention Jeff Lukas, Tabasco Cat, or Cat Thief. In the meantime please have the respect to spell "Lukas" correctly - NOT Lucas.

06 Oct 2011 11:06 AM

I was a Financial Advisor in the late '90's during the Dot.com craze.  Chris was a day-trader, he made that public, and actually had a website where he would discuss stocks and what he was buying and selling.  Being a racing fan and a fan of his, I followed (monitored)him daily, both on and off the track.  If he was actually buying/trading the stocks he mentioned, things weren't going well there either.  When I first heard of his death, my initial gut-feeling was that money was involved somehow.  Either way, a very sad ending.  

06 Oct 2011 2:30 PM

What a beautiful article.  I've no idea how many times I have cried over Charismatic but they are countless.  What is he doing in Japan with a stud fee of only $2,500.  That is really tragic and I pray for a safe return one day to Old Friends.  I hate that all the lovely horses don't stay here in the US, the owners should be ashamed for selling them to stand where no one knows what will happen to them!

08 Oct 2011 12:00 AM

I knew Chris well, we actualy met online back in the day when you paid AOL by the minute and there was a horse racing chat where people really where who they said they were.Many of us are still close to this day. Chris and I moved to Southern California at the same time. Yes, he had his demons, we all do, his were tragic. For anyone to question his motives or feelings regarding his holding Charismatic's leg after his injury is insanity. This is the same guy who gladly rode my 10K claimer at Santa Anita a week after winning the Kentucky Derby! He also gave me daily lessons on the Stock Market and E Trade, he was very, very intelligent. He was also super sensitive. He truly loved horses, and he really loved Charismatic. I look forward to ESPN's documentary with a painful heart. They will do a good job, they did on my Cousin Tim Richmond a year ago this month. But I still miss my friend, and Pray every day he has the peace he so desperately searched for in life. Rest well, dear friend, rest well.

15 Oct 2011 5:30 AM

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