RIP Charismatic: Sudden death of one of racing’s most famous battlers

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1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic has died at the age of 20.
1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic has died at the age of 20.

Less than three months after being repatriated to the US, 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic has died suddenly, just days before his 21st birthday.

Charismatic returned to the United States from the JBBA Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan on December 4, 2016, and was pensioned at Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement Center in Georgetown, Kentucky.

The stallion was found in his stable early on Sunday morning, and a necropsy performed at the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory revealed he suffered a severe catastrophic fracture of his pelvis that resulted in fatal bleeding.

Charismatic at Old Friends.  
Charismatic at Old Friends.  © Laura Battles

“Pelvic fractures will in some cases also lacerate the large arteries of the pelvis and cause severe internal bleeding,” said veterinarians Bryan M. Waldridge and Rhodes P. Bell.

“Fatal pelvic fractures are uncommon and usually unforeseeable. It is not possible to know exactly how the injury happened or any factors that may have led to its occurrence.”

The announcement of Charismatic’s sudden death was made by Old Friends president Michael Blowen.

“Right now, everyone is pretty much inconsolable,” Blowen said on Sunday. “Last night, at 6.30, he was fine. He was a really tough horse and he deserved a much longer retirement. But none of us, unfortunately, has a magic wand. Everyone at Old Friends takes solace from the few great months that this great Champion gave us.”

Bred by Kentucky by Parrish Hill Farm and William Farish, and trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Charismatic (Summer Squall-Bali Babe, by Drone) won the 1999 Kentucky Derby at long odds, with Chris Antley in the saddle, after vying in claiming races just a few months earlier. It was the second Derby win in three years for Bob and Beverly Lewis, following Silver Charm’s in 1997.

Even so, Charismatic wasn’t favored in the Preakness. But again he gave Antley what had become his signature move, a confident, commanding run from outside the mid- pack, proving beyond doubt that he was the best three year old in America. Now the colt who’d twice been offered for a claiming tag and the jockey who’d battled drugs and weight captured people’s love for underdogs who beat the odds.

Charismatic a week before leaving Japan for the US in November 2016.
Charismatic a week before leaving Japan for the US in November 2016. © Shigeki Yusa

But in the Belmont Stakes the chestnut colt suffered multiple fractures in his left front leg just a few strides before the wire. It was only through the heroic efforts of jockey Antley – who quickly dismounted and held up Charismatic’s injured left front leg off the ground – that the injuries were career ending and not life ending.

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. He entered stud at Lane’s End in 2000 and stood there for three seasons, siring Sun King, before relocating to JBBA’s Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan in 2002.

Charismatic retired from stud at age 20 and arrived at Old Friends in December 2016, thanks to the assistance of the Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Foundation, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Charismatic’s Inner Circle.

Charismatic (March 13, 1996 - February 19, 2017)
Charismatic (March 13, 1996 – February 19, 2017)

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