He’s coming home: Derby legend Charismatic Kentucky bound

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Charismatic is returning from stud in Japan to thoroughbred retirement home Old Friends in Kentucky.
Charismatic is returning from stud in Japan to thoroughbred retirement home Old Friends in Kentucky.

Kentucky Derby winner and US Horse of the Year Charismatic is returning to the bluegrass state to live out his retirement after standing at stud in Japan.

The 20-year-old 1999 Derby and Preakness winner is being shipping to Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement Center in Georgetown, in November.

Charismatic ‘s journey from the JBBA Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan is being sponsored in large part by a gift from his former owners through the Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Foundation, and also from the Austin,Texas-based vodka brand, Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

This marks the third Kentucky Derby winner to be repatriated from Japan by Old Friends. In 2014 the farm welcomed 1997 champion Silver Charm (also owned by the Lewis family) and the following year 2002 winner War Emblem. With the arrival of Charismatic, Old Friends will become one of the only farms in the country to be home to three Derby Champions.

War Emblem
War Emblem
Ferdinand Ferdinand

Both Charismatic and War Emblem featured in a PETA investigation in 2009, about horse slaughter, but Old Friends founder and President Michael Blowen had already developed a relationship with Japanese breeding authorities in order to smooth the way for the repatriation of the stallions.

Originally sent to stud at Farish’s Lane’s End Farm, Charismatic was sent to Japan in 2002.

Old Friends was founded in 2003 when news broke that Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had perished in a slaughterhouse in Japan in 2002.

Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 US Horse of the Year, ended up as a stallion in Japan. He was not a big stud success was killed for human consumption in 2002.

“This is yet another dream come true,” Blowen said. “Charismatic holds such special memories for so many racing fans, so it’s particularly meaningful to be able to bring him home.

Beverly Lewis, who campaigned the horse with her late husband, Robert, said she was pleased to learn Charismatic would be joining “our beloved Silver Charm” at Old Friends.

Bred by Kentucky by Parrish Hill Farm and William Farish and trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Charismatic (Summer Squall x Bali Babe, by Drone) had a career that was nothing short of a Cinderella story.

In February of 1999, the chestnut colt was vying in claiming races at Santa Anita, but by April he had surged to the top of the thee-year-old racing world by capturing the Group 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. He went on to victories in that year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes at long odds, and suddenly found himself at the threshold of becoming the world’s 12th Triple Crown winner.

In the Belmont Stakes, Charismatic took the lead and surged while a record crowd of more than 85,000 cheered. Then he dropped back suddenly and was passed by eventual winner Lemon Drop Kid. As he crossed the finish line in third place, Charismatic was quickly pulled up having suffered multiple fractures in his left front leg.

In a very memorable moment, his jockey, the late Chris Antley, jumped off and held the colt’s leg off the ground until help arrived, thus avoiding more serious damage. As Daily Racing Form’s Jay Hovdey noted at the time: “The Triple Crown was lost, but Charismatic was saved.”

The injuries, while not life threatening, did end his racing career. But Charismatic earned that year’s Eclipse Award as Champion 3-year-old colt as well as Horse of the Year honors and retired with five wins from 17 starts and earnings of $2,038,064.

Old Friends cares for more than 150 horses across three states, many of them stallions whose racing and breeding careers came to an end. The farm attracts nearly 20,000 tourists annually.

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