Charismatic Saga - By Evan Hammonds

Twenty years have passed since that warm June afternoon at Belmont Park when Bob and Beverly Lewis’ Charismatic made his bid for the Triple Crown. The story of his run, along with that of his rider, Chris Antley, bears revisiting.

Use of Mike Corrado’s photograph of Antley’s valiant attempt to comfort the injured colt after he dismounted past the finish on the cover was debated in the offices of BloodHorse, especially given these sensitive times in the Thoroughbred sport. However, the image, the day, and what followed are important components of the essence of our game: competitiveness and compassion.

Antley’s story, the main focus of Lenny Shulman’s excellent retrospective, depicts the triumph and the tragedy of the rider whose life ended less than 18 months after that Belmont Stakes (G1) day of June 5, 1999. His all-too-brief life was filled with the highest of highs—two wins in the Kentucky Derby (G1)—and the lowest of lows, something most everyone in this business has experienced. One can only speculate as to how Antley handled his own demons outside the racetrack.

However, Charismatic’s Belmont Stakes tale is more than that. The celebration of the owners Jeanne Vance and “Laddie” Dance and trainer Scotty Schulhofer of Lemon Drop Kid, the winner, was shared with few, as the main post-race focus was on saving Charismatic.

After Charismatic’s foreleg was cradled by Antley, veterinary experts took over and it was determined that the horse suffered a “rather severe” condylar fracture of his left cannon bone and also sustained a break in a sesamoid located in the same leg.

Returned to Barn 10, trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ Belmont outpost, Charismatic was “pretty comfortable” that evening as he was visited by a host of helpers and the Lewises. With tears in his eyes, Bob Lewis commended Antley’s heroics, telling him: “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.”

The following day the real work began as Charismatic underwent a 2 1/2-hour operation by Dr. Stephen Selway.

There were multiple cannon bone fragments, and Selway removed some of them and repaired the remainder of the damage with four stainless steel screws.

Charismatic was fitted with a fiberglass cast while recovering from the operation. That cast was eventually removed and replaced by a large compression bandage that provided support and controlled swelling.

“We took everything nice and slow with him, so as not to stress him any more than he had already been stressed,” Selway told The Blood-Horse. “His recovery was excellent. He’s been a very good patient. He’s shown a lot of class—just like he did when he was racing—and that always helps.”

Charismatic, who was named Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male, continued to show class—the best trait of the Thoroughbred—through recovery and his later career as a stallion. While he wasn’t among the leading sires of his generation, he remained popular through his post-racing career at Lane’s End Farm in Central Kentucky, JBBA Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan, and at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm near Georgetown, Ky., where he died in February 2017 at 21.

Lukas stopped by Old Friends in December 2016.

“It’s very gratifying to know through a 20-year span somebody really looked after that horse,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “That was the gratifying thing that no matter what happened or where he went, somebody really looked after him.”

Charismatic gave us his best, and in return he received the best care and attention. While our sport is about competition, it is our compassion that is our strongest asset.

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