Originally created 06/05/99

From claiming races to the edge of greatness



NEW YORK -- The filly was the talk of horse racing. The colt wasn't even a murmur in February.

But now it's Charismatic, the colt who twice ran in claiming races, who can become the first Triple Crown champion in 21 years.

Silverbulletday, however, remains a very interesting conversation piece. She takes on the role of spoiler when she makes her debut against colts in the 1 1/2 -mile classic on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes.

It might not end up as a two-horse race, but going in it's a two-horse story.

"This is unique," said Bob Baffert, Silverbulletday's trainer. "It's like a heavyweight title match. You've got the 3-year-old filly against the 3-year-old colt who won the two big races this spring. It's for serious bragging rights. ... This should be on pay-per-view, and I want a piece of the action."

Silverbulletday was the third early favorite at 4-1. Charismatic, 31-1 in the Derby and 8-1 in the Preakness, was 2-1. Menifee, runner-up in the Derby and Preakness was 7-2. Menifee is trained by Elliott Walden, trainer of Victory Gallop, who foiled Real Quiet's Triple Crown bid by a nose in the 1998 Belmont.

Silverbulletday was the champion 2-year-old filly last year when she won six of seven starts, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. This year she is unbeaten in five starts. Eleven of the 12 starts have been in stakes.

Charismatic, on the other hand, twice ran in claiming races -- the first time as a 2-year-old. Much has been made of his second claiming start, for a $62,500 price, because it was only four months ago.

Nick Zito, trainer of Belmont starters Adonis and Stephen Got Even, put that Feb. 11 race at Santa Anita in perspective.

"You always get a great line from the $2 bettors, who are the heart and sole of racing," Zito said. "I was leaving the track one day and I heard a bettor say, `Charismatic was never a claimer, Wayne just ran him in a claiming race.' I think that's the case."

Charismatic, bought for $200,000 as a weanling by Bob and Beverly Lewis, was put in the claiming race by Lukas in an effort to boost the strapping chestnut colt's confidence. Luckily, no one claimed him, but Bob Lewis said he would not have minded if someone had because the colt didn't appear to be worth the investment.

The Lewises own Silver Charm, who failed to become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978 by finishing second in the 1997 Belmont. Silverbulletday is owned by Mike Pegram, owner of Real Quiet. Both colts are trained by Baffert.

The claiming race turned out to be Charismatic's second win in nine starts when the first-place finisher was disqualified, The colt then finished second in his next two starts, then fourth in the April 3 Santa Anita Derby.

Lukas then decided the colt that Bob Lewis calls a chow hound needed to be kept busy because he holds his weight. So in the next six weeks, Charismatic won the Lexington at Keeneland, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Charismatic had to beat 18 other 3-year-olds in the Derby and 13 in the Preakness. Saturday's 12-horse field will be the second biggest of the 26 horses that had a chance to win the Triple Crown.

The biggest was 13 when Canonero II finished fourth in 1971. The biggest field for any of the 11 successful Triple Crown bids was eight when Seattle Slew won in 1977.

"One reason I think a lot of people are going at him is they think he's got to throw in a bad one," Baffert said. `People are thinking maybe he'll go backward. He's run hard. If anything, the son of a gun is going forward. That's what makes him such an incredible horse."

A victory by Charismatic at Belmont Park would be worth $600,000 from the $1 million purse and a Visa-sponsored $5 million bonus for sweeping the three races. That would boost Lukas' career earnings to more than $200 million and probably clinch Horse of the Year for the colt.

A win by Silverbulletday certainly would put her in the lead for Horse of the Year.

Lukas said he thinks Silverbulletday has kept fresh this year because she won her races easily, and that should benefit her in the Belmont.

"On the other hand, she has not been pressured," he said. "That's the gray area as far as Silverbulletday is concerned. When she makes that move it's not going to be a 3-year-old filly who will run 30 yards with her, but four or five colts who will grab her by the throat. She will have to pass the test. If she does, Bob, Beverly, Chris (Antley, the jockey) and I will shake their hands."

The field in post-position order: Teletable, John Velasquez; Vision and Verse, Herbert Castillo Jr.; Silverbulletday, Jerry Bailey; Charismatic, Chris Antley; Pineaff, Sidney LeJeune Jr.; Lemon Drop Kid, Jose Santos; Patience Game, Kent Desormeaux; Adonis, Jorge Chavez; Prime Directive, Mike Smith; Menifee, Pat Day; Stephen Got Even, Shane Sellers; and Best of Luck, Jean-Luc Samyn.