1999 Kentucky Derby Winner Charismatic Dies at Age 20

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In 1999, Thoroughbred racing fans had hope for a triple crown winner. A stunning chestnut colt with four white socks and a distinctive face marking had won the Kentucky Derby, despite long odds. He went on to an equally unlikely win in the Preakness, and so when the Belmont rolled around, all eyes were on him.

That year’s Belmont could have been a tragedy. Charismatic slowed in the final stretch, and sensing that this was more than just a bad run, jockey Chris Antley pulled the horse up, leapt out of the saddle and immediately lifted Charismatic’s left front leg. Antley’s instincts were correct. Upon examination, it was found that Charismatic’s leg was broken in two places. Antley’s quick actions that day are widely credited with saving the horse’s life.

A successful surgery allowed Charismatic to go on to a long breeding career, most of which was in Japan. He was shipped to Japan in 2002 and returned to his home state of Kentucky at the end of 2016. He was set to have a long retirement at Old Friends Equine, a farm that is home to prominent retired racehorses including fellow triple crown contenders War Emblem and Silver Charm as well as one of Charismatic’s own sons, I’m Charismatic.

On Sunday, February 19, Old Friends reported that Charismatic had died overnight from unknown causes. He hadn’t displayed any symptoms of illness or injury and was said to be fine when he was last checked on Saturday evening.

“Right now, everyone is pretty much inconsolable,” said Old Friends founder and president Michael Blowen. “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.”

A full necropsy will be performed to try and discover the cause of death. A Facebook post from Old Friends reports that he appeared to go peacefully with no signs of struggle or distress.

Update from 2/21/17: Veterinarians from Park Equine Hospital report that Charismatic suffered, “a pelvic fracture, which lacerated the vasculature causing hemorrhages,” according to an article from The Blood Horse. Dr. Bryan Waldridge, the veterinarian called to the scene when Charismatic was discovered on Sunday morning, characterized the incident as “a sudden, catastrophic injury in his own stall.”


Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com

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