10/29/2014 11:24AM

Silver Charm returns from Japan to go to Old Friends

Barbara D. Livingston
Silver Charm originally retired to Three Chimneys Farm before being exported to Japan. The 20-year-old horse is now returning from Japan to live out his days at Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky.

Racing Hall of Fame champion and dual classic winner Silver Charm will return to North America after nearly a decade in Japan to live out his life at the Old Friends Thoroughbred retirement facility in Georgetown, Ky,, it was announced Wednesday by Three Chimneys Farm and Old Friends.

The deal to send the 20-year-old Silver Charm home was put together in a joint venture among Three Chimneys, Jeff and Beverly Lewis, and the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association. Silver Charm is slated to join recently retired multi-millionaire Game On Dude at Old Friends, whose roster includes champion Gulch, 2002 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava, and special Eclipse Award winner Rapid Redux. The Lewises, who campaigned Silver Cham to win $6,944,369, have agreed to pay for the horse’s flight from Japan to the United States.

Trainer Bob Baffert privately acquired Silver Charm, a son of Silver Buck out of Bonnie’s Poker, by Poker, as a 2-year-old in 1996 for $85,000 and trained him throughout his career for the late Bob Lewis and his wife Beverly. The steely gray horse was pure class from the outset, but developed into a superstar during the 1997 classic season. Silver Charm captured the Kentucky Derby by a gutsy head over Captain Bodgit and the Preakness Stakes by a head over Free House, only to lose the Belmont – and a shot at immortality – by less than a length in the closing strides to Touch Gold.

The former $16,500 yearling ultimately finished in the top three in 21 of 24 starts, winning 12 times, while racing at the apex of his sport, and including a win in the 1998 Dubai World Cup.. In 2007, he was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame. He remains today one of the 10 richest North American-bred and -raced Thoroughbreds of all time.

 Retired to Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., Silver Charm stood initially for a $25,000 fee. After five North American seasons,  he was exported to Japan, with a buy-back clause in the contract – routine following the tragedy of Ferdinand – standing initially at Shizunai Stallion Station, the JBBA’s main Hokkaido operation, and later at satellite facilities.

Silver Charm’s Kentucky-sired offspring would include 15 stakes winners, the best being multiple graded winners Preachinatthebar and Miss Isella. His Japanese foals, however, have not been successful; of 149 foals of racing age to date, he has been represented by one stakes-placed runner, in Korea. Support waned. Silver Charm has just one reported yearling and six juveniles of 2014. His progeny overall have banked $2 million and won more than 1,000 races.

Old Friends founder Michael Blowen, a die-hard Silver Charm fan for 17 years, never forgot the determined gray fighter who always looked for head-to-head battles, and usually won them. Blowen gave his dam, Bonnie’s Poker, a final home at Old Friends before her 2010 passing, and the current farm mascot is a high-spirited pony named “Little Silver Charm.” Blowen tried without success for years to acquire Silver Charm. Then, came a phone call one morning last week from Three Chimneys stallion manager Sandy Hatfield.

“How would you like to have an old gray horse at Old Friends?”

Blowen hasn’t stopped smiling since.

“I’m so grateful that Three Chimneys is allowing us to take care of him,” Blowen said. “He was my favorite horse forever, he really was. What an unbelievable animal. I love this horse.

“When the time comes, we’ll bring him home and put him in extended quarantine here at the farm, as we do with all of them – a stall and the round pen. Then, he’ll probably go somewhere up front, next to Gulch, Sarava, Game On Dude, with those guys.

As for Little Silver Charm – what does he think about all of this?

 “He realizes this is a real threat,” Blowen said, tongue firmly in cheek. “He says he’ll have to be referred to as ‘Big Silver Charm’ – so people can tell the difference.”