Visiting Silver Charm in Japan

by Kate Hunter,

One of the bi-products of being an American racing fan in Japan is that I get to check in on some of my favorite racers that have been purchased by Japan over the years; as a racing blogger in Japan, I also get asked a lot of questions about US horses who were bought by the Japanese. While I have not been able to check on all of them, I do make it a point to see my favorite race horse of all time: Silver Charm.

I first visited Silver Charm in August 2009 at the JBBA Iburi Stallion Station, a very small and relaxed little breeding farm in Southern Hokkaido. There were 3 thoroughbred stallions there: Silver Charm, Japan-bred sprinter Sunningdale (by Warning), and champion French horse Bago (by Nashwan). Viewing hours there are 9 to 11am and 1 to 3pm. I got in at around 12:30, but the stable crew didn’t seem to mind, and showed me to Silver Charm’s paddock, where I was allowed to photograph him for hours. He had just finished his daily exercise and had a sweat spot where the saddle or pad had been. I told him all about his GII winner, Miss Isella, of some of his winning progeny Japan, and how people still ask about him, some eagerly awaiting for his return to the US (Which Three Chimney’s Case Clay confirmed will happen at the end of his stud career in Japan). I got to see him gallop playfully around his paddock, roll around in the dirt, come up and greet all of his visitors, and eat a LOT of grass. He was very aware I was hanging around him all day, always looking over at me, coming over to see what I was doing, and sometimes I swear he was posing for my photographs.

Before I knew it it was 4pm, and his groom came over to take him inside for his bath and dinner. He was so shocked that I was still there that he let me come into the barn and watch the rest of Charm’s evening routine. They gave him a good bath, washing every inch of him and scraping his hooves followed by good brush down that scratched all his itchy places. He had a nice dinner and, because it was cool that day, got a warm blanket. I said my goodbyes and promised to see him again next year. The staff was so kind to me, that they gave me some tea to drink, a poster calendar, and a ride to the train station, so it’s only natural that after 5 hours at the Iburi Stallion Station, I was one happy Silver Charm fan!

This past August, it was once again time for my yearly pilgrimage to see my favorite gray Derby winner. This time I was literally going to see ONLY him and maybe another farm IF I had time. I was determined to spend the entire day with him; while the trains prevented me from doing that in the most literal sense, I did spend about 7 total hours with him. The Iburi Stallion Station’s 2010 roster had changed a bit, Bago had had a few big winners so he was moved to the JBBA’s main farm in Shizunai and the European runner David Junior (by Pleasant Tap).

I got there by 1pm, and everybody instantly remembered me. They told me to enjoy the rest of my afternoon at the farm, cause they knew I was going to be there for awhile. I gave him the updates on things relevant to him... like Miss Isella retiring, being sold to Adena Springs, and how she should get some very good choices in mates there. I broke the sad news about his mother passing on, and the lovely story I read on the Blood-Horse about his son Charming Jim’s life after the track. He munched, rolled, galloped and sniffed at me just as before. It was heavenly for a fan like me. When 4pm rolled around again, I got to watch his night time routine, bath, dinner, brush. I said good night and made plans to see him the next day.

The next day, I got to Charm’s farm at about 8:30am and checked in with the stable staff. I had brought them some jelly-rolls for being so kind to an American fan who was coming and going at all hours. Silver Charm had already has his morning exercise when I arrived and was munching away in the morning sun; while Charm and I stood in the shade for awhile, I told his neighbour Sunningdale (who was also in the shady part of the paddock near by) how Charm had won the Dubai World Cup in 1998 with such heart that it is still one of my favorite things to watch on the internet. Yes, I talk a lot to horses, but it was fun, and they were actually listening to me go on and on about racing.

Around 11am the farrier came and gave all the horses a trim. Charm was the last to get worked on, and I was allowed to watch. He wasn’t the easiest horses to trim. He kept putting his foot down and got yelled at a little bit. When it was over, he pranced happily back to his paddock and galloped all around before rolling joyfully in the dirt.

At noon I had to leave to head to the airport and fly back to Tokyo, where I am a english teacher and racing photographer. I said my slightly teary goodbyes to my favorite horse and swore up and down that I’d see him next year. I said good-bye to the staff and thanked them for being no kind allowing me to have the most intimate time with my favorite racehorse. They even offered to take me to the airport again.

While he isn’t being bred to the numbers of mares as you would think he would, that is largely due to the fact that Japan doesn’t breed as many horses as we do in the US, remember the country is only about the size of California. The number of mares he is covering won’t necessarily reflect how soon he will be sent back to the US. Plenty of Japanese stallions cover only a hand full of mares each season. He will be back in Kentucky one day though!

So while he might not be coming home as soon as some might hope, I want you all to know that our beloved champion is healthy, happy, and well taken care of by some of the nicest people I have ever met. I will watch after him carefully and give yearly updates on him on my blog, where I also keep a list of his Japanese progeny’s race results and post pictures of his babies. There is also a link to my flickr account where you can see photos of Silver Charm in Japan. If you have any questions about US horses in Japan don’t hesitate to e-mail me. I will gladly try to find out some information about them. I can’t promise anything, especially with broodmares who are kept away from visitors, but I can always try.

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