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Triple Crown near-misses: Silver Charm, 1997
By Jay Hovdey
Silver Charm, the star of the 1997 show, tangled with what was probably the deepest, meanest bunch of 3-year-olds since the 1975 Triple Crown dramatics provided by Foolish Pleasure, Avatar, Master Derby, and Diabolo.
Through sheer determination, the gray colt from out West had come out on top of both the Derby and the Preakness by a head, mixing it up in various combinations with Wood Memorial winner Captain Bodgit, Santa Anita Derby winner Free House, and Lexington Stakes winner Touch Gold. There was no reason to believe Silver Charm couldn’t do it again in the Belmont Stakes, although he didn’t have much room to spare.
It therefore should not have been a surprise that the Triple Crown went down in flames when Chris McCarron pushed Touch Gold to the front in the closing yards of the Belmont to beat Silver Charm by three-quarters of a length. After all, went the common wisdom, the trouble encountered by Touch Gold in the Preakness was worth at least as much as the 1 1/2 lengths he was beaten that day. And even though the colt was running in New York on a hoof he injured in Baltimore, trainer Dave Hofmans thought the Belmont was his to lose.
“If he doesn’t stumble at the start of the Preakness, we might not be talking about a Triple Crown,” Hofmans said on the eve of the Belmont. “We don’t know how good this colt is yet, but I hope we’ll find out.”
We did, as Touch Gold spread heartbreak and joy in equal measure. Gary Stevens, dismounting from Silver Charm, insisted his colt had never run a better race.
“If anyone ever had any doubt about how hard it is to win the Triple Crown . . .” Stevens said.
Then he said no more.
Triple Crown near-misses
|Spectacular Bid (1979)||Pleasant Colony (1981)||Alysheba (1987)||Sunday Silence (1989)|
|Silver Charm (1997)||Real Quiet (1998)||Charismatic (1999)||War Emblem (2002)|
|Funny Cide (2003)||Smarty Jones (2004)||Big Brown (2008)|
Talk about quality. Silver Charm, we know what he did-Derby, Preakness, Dubai World Cup and countless other graded stakes as well as 2nds in the BC Classic and Belmont. Free House placed in all 3 Triple Crown races and won the SA Derby, Big Cap, Pacific Classic, Norfolk, San Felipe, San Antonio, Swaps, Bel Air. Touch Gold would run a huge race to win the Haskell before his feet gave out. Wild Rush came back at 4 to win the Carter and Met Mile and dead-heat with Silver Charm in the Kentucky Cup Classic with a 123 Beyer. Captain Bodgit, 2nd in the Derby and 3rd in the Preakness, had swept the Florida Derby and Wood.
I saw Silver Charm in person run 2nd to Free House in the Santa Anita Derby and he became my horse for Kentucky. Once he won the Roses, I thought he was uniquely built to make a serious run at the Crown. And he was. Silver Charm had it all, tactical speed, foundation, endurance, the speed figs(115 in Derby, 118 in Preakness), intelligence, and a lot of heart(I'll Have Another reminds me so much of Silver Charm, although he doesn't quite have the foundation Silver Charm had or quite the Beyers). Silver Charm also had Stevens and Baffert, although Baffert wasn't a known Triple Crown commodity then. But Jay is right that the talent of Silver Charm's competition left him little room for error. For me, that's a big question about this year's Belmont. Without the legit top talent of Bodemeister, how good really are horses like Dullahan and Union Rags? As for Paynter, I believe he is the real deal talent-wise, but I wonder about foundation and the challenge of running 12 furlongs with little foundation.
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