Though today isn’t Kentucky Derby Day 2020, the first Saturday in May is too much in my DNA not to be thinking about the Derby. As we look forward to this year’s Derby which is rescheduled for the first Saturday in September (Sept. 5th, 2020), the quiet of this spring allows time to contemplate and admire the great athletes that have competed in past runnings of the Kentucky Derby.
A good many of them live at Old Friends. A good many others spent their final years with us. We’re proud to be the place one of the greatest living Derby winners calls his home.
Silver Charm, winner of the 1997 Kentucky Derby, came to live with us on December 1, 2014. He was owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, trained by Bob Baffert and his jockey was Gary Stevens. The Lewis family repurchased him on retirement from the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association (JBBA) and donated him to Old Friends. He arrived accompanied by Sandy Hatfield, Stallion Manager for Three Chimneys Farm, who formed a bond with the handsome grey champion while he was doing stud duty at that farm and arranged the logistics of his relocation. Silver Charm, who was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2007, is 26 years old now. He’s one of the smartest and kindest horses we’ve ever had the privilege to know. Quietly regal and unfailingly gracious to his friends, he’s a bit of a task-master with those he considers his servants, from Michael on down. He’s a horse of decided opinions who knows his own greatness and in the manner of the genuinely great, shows it in his generous spirit. But if this sounds solemn, those of you who know him have probably seen those flashes of his other side, his mischievous sense of humor.
As all of us, staff, volunteers and friends, will never forget, we’ve also been privileged to be the home of two other Kentucky Derby winners, War Emblem who passed less than two months ago and who we desperately miss, and Charismatic for whom we waited so long and whom we’ll never stop missing.
War Emblem won the 2002 Kentucky Derby wire-to-wire over one of the strongest fields of the century so far. Owned by the Thoroughbred Corporation, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza, he was as legendary for his fierce character as for his considerable prowess. He spent his stallion career at Shadai Stallion Station in Japan and sired 2012 Japanese champion filly Robe Tissage, among other talented competitors. When War Emblem retired himself by refusing to cover mares, Shadai Stallion Station generously donated the spirited Derby and Preakness winner to Old Friends. Though never a team player, he was surprisingly interactive and involved with people, and with all that went on around him. As those of you who visited him know, War Emblem came over to say hello to nearly everyone who came to see him (and, admittedly, to get carrots), seven days a week, three times a day. What else is to say, but that he was one of a kind?
Charismatic. Say what you like, I still think he would have won the Triple Crown. Coming from behind he overwhelmed the others in the 1999 Derby for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis and trainer D. Wayne Lukas, ridden by Chris Antley. I know he did win plenty of hearts in his all too brief retirement with us. Charismatic stood at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky, then JBBA in Japan, and like Silver Charm, he had financial support for his return home from the Lewis family. All three of our Derby winners have proved in different ways a little imperious, and Charismatic was no exception. Unlike War Emblem he was kind, and the ultimate team player, but once he caught on that groups of people moving around the farm meant carrots – which he did at once – he neighed when he saw a group, demanding their attention and carrots immediately. He was big yet graceful, flashy with that gold coat and those white stockings, beautiful and distinctive. Though he left too soon, he left a gift we treasure to this day: his son, Sun King.
Not only Derby winners but each Derby competitor, is a superb young athlete. All have proven the right to compete in the most important horse race in America. Running in the Kentucky Derby is an honor that forever distinguishes those competitors. If my count is right, nine of our current retirees have participated in a Kentucky Derby. They are:
Afternoon Deelites being visited last May by his jockey, Kent Desormeux; 1995 Derby (won by Thunder Gulch, son of Gulch).
Easy Grades, 2002 Derby (won by War Emblem)
Eye of the Tiger, 2003 Derby (won by Funny Cide)
Pollard’s Vision, 2004 Derby (won by Smarty Jones). Pollard’s Vision also sired 2010 Kentucky Oaks winner Blind Luck.
Sun King, 2005 Derby (won by Giacomo).
Nobiz Like Shobiz, 2007 Derby (won by Street Sense).
Soldat, 2011 Derby (won by Animal Kingdom).
Comma to the Top also ran in the 2011 Derby.
Patch, 2017 Derby (won by Always Dreaming).
Finally, we honor the memory of our past Derby contender residents, with the names of the winners in case that helps you remember that Derby. That may also help locate each one’s Derby to watch our friends run for the roses once again, whether this afternoon on NBC, at the Kentucky Derby Museum, or any time you like on Youtube.
Taylor’s Special, 1984 Derby (won by Swale)
Gulch, 1987 Derby (won by Alysheba)
Proper Reality, 1988 Derby (won by Winning Colors)
Bull Inthe Heather, 1993 Derby (won by Sea Hero)
Wallenda, 1993 Derby (won by Sea Hero)
A P Valentine, 2001 Derby (won by Monarchos)
Lusty Latin, 2002 Derby (won by War Emblem)
Have I overlooked anyone? I hope not, but if you spot a missing Derby-contender Old Friends retiree, please leave a comment and I’ll add that horse to the list.
photos by Laura