On a sparkling spring afternoon at Pimlico, when the scary combined with the sublime, Charismatic captured the 124th Preakness Stakes yesterday before a record crowd of 100,311 and immediately set his sights on history.
The gritty workhorse will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner June 5 when he races in the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. No horse has won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont since Affirmed in 1978.After stunning the sports world with a long-shot victory in the Derby, Charismatic became the third horse in the past three years to depart the Preakness with a chance for glory. Real Quiet last year and Silver Charm in 1997 won the first two legs of the Triple Crown only to fall short in the Belmont.
Interestingly, Charismatic may have a better chance of winning all three races than his more highly regarded predecessors. His trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, tabbed him for the Belmont even before the Derby.
"I told Bob and Beverly Lewis prior to the Kentucky Derby itself, I said, `I don't know about the first two, but I think we'll look good in the Belmont,' " Lukas said. "I just liked his style."
The Lewises own Charismatic. They also own Silver Charm.
Bettors haven't caught on, at least not yet. Charismatic won the Derby at odds of 31-1. He went off at 8-1 in the Preakness. Only one Derby winner ever went off higher in the Preakness: The 11-1 Dark Star in 1953, the year of Native Dancer.
Charismatic's dramatic and powerful late charge was the sublime of the Preakness. The scary was a man stepping onto the racetrack into the path of horses in the seventh race, three races before the Preakness.
The horses managed to dodge him, although he stood his ground, apparently bracing for a collision. He was arrested and sent to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
The Preakness winner's circle brought together the same characters and compelling stories of the Derby: the former claiming horse no one wanted; the gracious couple of racing, Beverly and Bob Lewis; the recently elected Hall of Fame trainer, Lukas; and the comeback jockey of the year, Chris Antley.
"Our whole industry is just full of fairy tales and romance," Lukas said. "And this is no exception."
Antley, who launched his career in 1983 at Pimlico, returned to riding in February after well-documented struggles with drugs, alcohol and weight gain.
"The road back was long, and it was hard," Antley said. "People keep telling me, `Smile, be joyous.' But I'm just trying to take it all in. This is special. This is special."
Charismatic won the Preakness much the same as he won the Derby, accelerating around the far turn and then simply running faster longer than any other horse. In the Preakness, he blasted by horses so fast they looked as if they were hardly moving.
A son of 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall, Charismatic raced in 10th place past the grandstand the first time, around the turn and into the backstretch. Valhol, Cat Thief and Vicar led the way, charging along side by side.
Vicar? Yes, Vicar. Despite stating emphatically that Vicar would be scratched instead of break from the far-outside 13 post, his trainer, Carl Nafzger, announced yesterday morning that Vicar would indeed break from the 13 post. Nafzger said he had decided that that wasn't such a disadvantage after all.
After sizzling for three quarters of a mile, the early leaders fizzled out, finishing seventh (Cat Thief), ninth (Valhol) and 10th (Vicar).
Charismatic was just starting to run. He immediately encountered a potential obstacle: Stephen Got Even. Antley hollered to Gary Stevens, Stephen Got Even's jockey: "If you're dead, give me a shot to get out."
Stevens yelled back: "Go on, little buddy."
So Antley swung Charismatic to the outside.
"When I turned him loose," Antley said, "he got there quickly."
Charismatic seemed almost to leave the ground as he dashed five-wide around the turn. By the head of the stretch he was in front. Although Menifee cut into his lead, Charismatic, powering through the afternoon shade and sunlight that marked the track, was never threatened.
For Charismatic, this was his fifth victory in 16 starts. He seems to thrive on the work, although his schedule of racing every two weeks may eventually take its toll.
"It's been two weeks, two weeks, two weeks," Lukas said. "And I know the story line. It's already coming. `He can't do it in three weeks.' "
The win for Lukas was his 12th in a Triple Crown race. He has won four Derbies, five Preaknesses and three Belmonts. But he has not won a Triple Crown, although in 1995 he won all three races with Thunder Gulch (Derby and Belmont) and Timber Country (Preakness).
"We've won all these races, but it took two horses," Lukas said. "Maybe our turn has come up where he can get it with one horse. We're going full of optimism and hope that we can pull it off."
Lukas said that 14 years ago he bought a watch with the silks of the 11 Triple Crown winners on the numbers 1 through 11.
"Twelve o'clock high is blank," Lukas said. "And I've been wearing this for 14 years. I want that green and gold right on that 12 o'clock high."
Green and gold are the colors of the Lewises' silks.
Although Bob Lewis, who owns a large Budweiser distributorship in California, expressed supreme confidence in Charismatic's chances in the Belmont, Lukas was more cautious.
"Nobody is going to be foolish enough to say, `Bring on all comers. We're going to kick ---,' " Lukas said. "Not in these Triple Crown races. We're not feeling that way about the Belmont.
"There'll be some new faces, new surface, new turns, new distance. So we've got to do it all over again."
Charismatic's price of $18.80 is the highest Preakness win payoff for a Kentucky Derby champion. A look at the top five:
Year Horse Price
'99 Charismatic $18.80
'71 Canonero II $8.80
'32 Burgoo King $8.50
'97 Silver Charm $8.20
'98 Real Quiet $7.00
Horse Win Place Show
Charismatic $18.80 $7.60 $5.80
Menifee $3.60 $3.20
Exacta: $47.60 Triple: $2,049.80