Most Charming - By Evan Hammonds

Horses that capture the imagination of the racing world come along only so often. One of those was this week’s cover boy: Silver Charm. While we don’t like to admit it, it’s been 20 years since he took us to the edge of the Triple Crown in June 1997.

Silver Charm’s story had it all. A $16,500 yearling at the 1995 Ocala Breeders’ Sales’ August auction, the gray/roan Florida-bred was a fighter, never blowing away his competition but always showing his patented never-say-die attitude in the stretch.

Helping convey his story were great connections. Trainer Bob Baffert was new to the spotlight two decades ago; his attitude and candor were refreshing to the racing public. However, it was Silver Charm’s owners—Bob and Beverly Lewis—who put Silver Charm’s class level on the top shelf.

Bob Lewis, who died in 2006, was one of the best ambassadors the sport has ever had. Hard-working, honest, and always upbeat, Lewis was a promoter, a motivator, and a consensus builder.

Lewis was also incredibly fortunate in racing, taking not one, but two of the best horsemen ever to train a horse to the final leg of the Triple Crown. Two years after Baffert and Silver Charm fell shy to Touch Gold in the Belmont, the Lewises’ Charismatic, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, swept the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) before an injury in the stretch ended Charismatic’s bid in New York.

Before those two colts came along, Lewis also owned Hall of Famer Serena’s Song, an 18-time winner of more than $3.2 million. The daughter of Rahy also went on to be a top broodmare, and her family today is consistently producing black-type winners.

Craig and Holly Bandoroff of Denali Stud near Paris, Ky., has the good fortune of keeping Serena’s Song and other mares the Lewises owned. A testament to Bob Lewis’ character is in Craig’s office. Bandoroff has two photos on his desk: one of his father and one of Lewis.

“He loved giving young people like Holly and me a chance and a big start,” Bandoroff said. “I knew there would never be another one like him. When people like Bob and Beverly come into your life you just are grateful it happened.”

Bandoroff has many Bob Lewis stories, and shared one:

“One of my favorite stories typified his warm personality and kindness,” he began. “We went to dinner at a restaurant after the races at Del Mar. Our table wasn’t ready so we went to the bar to have a Budweiser, of course (Lewis was a distributor in Southern California). There was a gentleman who it appeared had been sitting there for a while drinking a Budweiser. It wasn’t his first of the day. Now, you, me, and 999 people out of a thousand wouldn’t have said a word to him. But Bob being Bob says, ‘Hi, nice to see you. Thank you for drinking Budweiser.’ Now, I wasn’t sure if the guy was going to just get up and hit him for bothering him. He says in a surly voice: ‘What’s it to you, mister? I always drink Budweiser because I deliver Budweiser.’  At which point Bob sticks out his hand, slaps the chap on the back, and says: ‘Hi, I’m Bob Lewis. I’m an old truck-driving Budweiser delivery man myself.’ At which point the chap shook Bob’s hand and they had a nice conversation. It didn’t matter who you were. He was nice to everyone.

“Not only was Bob Lewis the story of the American Dream and a success story, he was a wonderful human being,” Bandoroff said. “I think all of us who worked closely with him knew he was one of a kind as a client, mentor, and friend. You knew when it was over you’d never replace him.”

As we remember Silver Charm, let us also remember that the industry could use a few more guys like Bob Lewis.

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