It’s been 20 years since Robert and Beverly Lewis’ Silver Charm ran into the horse racing record books and the hearts of countless racing fans with his head victory in the 1997 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The Florida-bred son of Silver Buck carried Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens that day, providing the veteran reinsman with his third Derby win to go along with his victories aboard Winning Colors (1988) and Thunder Gulch (1994).
The 123rd Kentucky Derby also represented the initial victory for the Lewises, as well as Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who has since tightened the girth on three more winners of The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports — Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002) and American Pharoah (2015), the latter of which went on to become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
After an impressive career that saw him collect victories in states from coast to coast, as well as the Middle Eastern desert, Silver Charm was retired in early June of 1999 and sent to Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Kentucky, for stallion duty. He resided at Three Chimneys until he was sold in 2004. After 13 years in Japan, Silver Charm returned home to the U.S. in late 2014 and is currently a happy pensioner at Old Friends Farm near Georgetown, Kentucky.
Well-known horseman Wes Lanter was at the helm of the stallion division at Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Kentucky, when Silver Charm arrived and spent the next several months acclimating the big gray to the life of stud duty at the popular Kentucky nursery. Though the pair only spent a few months together, Lanter was in charge of maintaining the daily schedule of the new stallion in his initial months of retirement.
Foaled: February 22, 1994
Owned by: Robert and Beverly Lewis
Bred by: Mary Lou Wootton (Florida)
Trained by: Bob Baffert
Ridden by: Gary Stevens
Career Record: 24-12-7-2, $6,944,396
- Eclipse Award winner, 3-year-old colt, 1997
- United States Racing Hall of Fame, class of 2007
Notable Victories: 1997 Kentucky Derby, 1997 Preakness Stakes, 1998 Dubai World Cup, 1996 Del Mar Futurity, 1998 Clark Handicap, 1998 Goodwood Stakes.
A Nice Surprise
“I remember it happened really quickly,” Lanter recalled of the day he was told Silver Charm would be arriving at Three Chimneys. “It started with a call from [Three Chimneys general manager] Dan Rosenberg, who said, ‘Well, you better get busy and get things ready, Silver Charm arrives tomorrow.’ I remember Bob and Beverly Lewis touring the facility and I knew we were trying to get Silver Charm, so I wasn’t all that surprised. Actually I remember someone saying we were trying to get both Silver Charm and Charismatic [both Lewis-owned dual classic winners] to share one of the two-horse stallion barns at Three Chimneys, but, in the end, Silver Charm came to us and Lane’s End was successful in getting Charismatic.
“There was one empty stall [in the main stallion barn] and that day we bedded it down and got ready for him to arrive; his stall was on the same side as Seattle Slew’s.”
Stallion farms are used to having a lot of visitors, especially when one of the bigger names retires, but Lanter was surprised at the sheer volume of people who showed up to greet Silver Charm that random Monday, which was during the now-defunct July Yearling sales in the Bluegrass. In addition to the Lewises and some of their family members, just about every employee at Three Chimneys turned out to see Silver Charm, as well as throngs of writers and television crews. The crowd stayed for several hours, appreciating at the very well-behaved stallion, who was showcased that day by Lanter and Seattle Slew’s groom, Tom Wade.
“A nice, big group of people showed up,” Lanter said. “It was as big a crowd as I’d ever seen there at any time, if not bigger. He was a real star and if you didn’t understand it before that day, you surely did after. And it continued for weeks. He had a lot of visitors, always, when I was at Three Chimneys.”
It didn’t take long for Silver Charm to be tossed into his new routine at Three Chimneys once the crowds left that first day, and life on the farm returned to normal.
“He was still pretty track-fit, racing-fit,” Lanter explained. “And the day after he arrived, he was ridden. We really got him acclimated quick. The track was a little quarter-mile deal around Slew’s big paddock and the day after he arrived, Kevin Caskey, who was the rider, was out there galloping and Silver Charm was giving him all he could handle. He’d eventually settle down, but those first few days I know he made Kevin work for it.”
Everyone Loves a Parade
In October of 1999, Three Chimneys sent Silver Charm to Keeneland to be paraded on the track under saddle. It was Three Chimneys Spinster Stakes Day and, once again, throngs of people turned out to see the then 5-year-old, who was at the time the third-richest North American-based Thoroughbred of all time, step foot on a racetrack for a final time. However, not everything about the day was easy for Lanter and Silver Charm.
“We hauled Silver Charm to Keeneland to parade,” Lanter said, “and not many know this story, but it could have been the last day of the horse’s life.
“That day I was following the six-horse [trailer] and there’s a place in the road that’s downhill where it’s just two lanes. A car went to go around me first and then the trailer carrying Silver Charm and after he got by me and when he darted out into the other lane to pass, another car was coming and I swear to God he barely got back over in front of the trailer carrying Silver Charm in time. I swear it was almost Silver Charm’s last day.”
After all the excitement during shipping, Lanter was happy to bed down Silver Charm in the designated barn, which was full of stakes horses, and wait to be called for the parade.
“Racing is a funny, interesting sport,” Lanter observes. “It has to be the only sport where you can go to the farms, or the Kentucky Horse Park, or the track and see the athletes and spend time with the athletes, both before and after their careers. I mean, you can’t go to Michael Jordan’s house and feed him a peppermint. Horse racing fans are unique. When they catch on to one and it sticks, they are fans forever and they will go anywhere to see them.
“I’m always struck by the comments under the news stories about when a beloved horse passes. The fans pay tribute and eulogize the horses they love as if they worked with them every day and knew them well, when many probably had never seen them except for on their televisions. It’s really remarkable and a testament to the racing fans. And that kind devotion was never so evident as at Keeneland that day with Silver Charm.”
At the designated time, Lanter led Silver Charm over to the paddock, and after he was saddled, he gave the rider a leg up.
“He was saddled in his special saddle towel with his name on it and everything,” Lanter recalled. “And in my life I have only legged one person up onto a racehorse at the track and it was that day; it’s still special for me to say it was for Silver Charm.
“He paraded up the track the entire length of the grandstand and the fans absolutely loved it. The Lewis’ were there and they were so happy and proud. And then the pony came and got him and led him off the track and that was it. His racetrack life was officially over.”
Out of Sight, Never Out of Mind
In early 2000, Lanter accepted the position to serve as stallion manager at Overbrook Farm and reluctantly said goodbye to the boys he’d grown to love at Three Chimneys. Though he didn’t visit Three Chimneys much after, he continued to follow the stallions’ careers, as both someone who cared for them and also as a racing fan. Finding out Silver Charm was being send to Japan was a disappointment to Lanter, only slightly made better by the news the gray stallion someday would return.
“I was surprised to hear he was going to Japan,” Lanter remembered. “I did see they’d made arrangements to bring him back if things weren’t working out, so that was good. I just thought about his fans here and how much they’d miss him. It’s very much part of the job to see the horses come and go, but I did think of his fans when he left and how they must have felt. So when years later I heard he’d be returning and coming home, I was more than pleased.
“I haven’t been out to [Old Friends] to see him yet, but I will. I’m told he’s at least as popular as when he was retired. I’m lucky to have been there back then and though it wasn’t a long time together, he really does represent some happy memories for me.”
Lexington, Kentucky, native Wes Lanter has spent most of his life surrounded by some of the best thoroughbreds of the last generation. The veteran horseman served as both stallion groom and/or stallion manager at the most successful and popular breeding farms in the Bluegrass, including Spendthrift Farm, Three Chimneys and Overbrook Farm, in addition to a pair of separate stints at the Kentucky Horse Park. Over his nearly 30-plus-year career, the 52-year-old has worked with three Triple Crown winners, both thoroughbred and Standardbred, five additional Kentucky Derby winners and multiple champions and Hall of Famers.
A walking encyclopedia of most things thoroughbred racing, Lanter is sharing his favorite stories about the horses whose lives he considers himself to be privileged to have been a part of throughout his career. Since leaving his position as Equine Section Supervisor at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions in 2015, Lanter has been working on compiling stories about his horses and deciding where his next life chapter will come from. Lanter also is the proud father of 20-year-old Noah, a standout baseball pitcher and outfielder at Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minnesota.