Twenty-five years later, he is a master of the selfie.
The gray stallion, who won the 1997 Race for the Rosesknows how to smile at the camera when tour groups come to see him at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farms in Georgetown just as he knew how to handle himself on the track. He was never the kind of racehorse who dashed ahead of the crowd, but he also rarely let a competitor pass him.
And in honor of the 25th anniversary of winning the Kentucky Derby, I hung out with Silver Charm earlier this year to see how his golden years were treating him. The 28-year-old Thoroughbred is the oldest living winner of the Kentucky Derby. In 1999, Blood Horse Magazine ranked among the top 100 horses of the 20th century, and he is the last living member of the class.
When I went to Silver Charm’s birthday party in early March, he held pride of place as the Derby’s third oldest winner. But with the recent death of grinding wheel and Go for the ginwho won the Kentucky Derbys in 1996 and 1994 respectively, Silver Charm edged out the most senior champion within weeks.
Michael Blowen, who founded Old Friends, says the best way to equate a horse’s age to human years is to multiply it by three and add eight, which puts our pal Silver Charm at 92. Even though Blowen says Silver Charm is as healthy as he was when he arrived at the farm in 2015, the 25th anniversary of his win is the perfect time to celebrate his career and spend some time quality with him.
Silver Charm’s breeding was nothing out of the ordinary, but among his 24 starts he won 12 times, finished second seven times and third twice. He conquered the Kentucky Derby in 1997 and Precocity issuesand he just missed one Triple Crown less than three-quarters of a length when he took second place in the Belmont Stakes. He was formed by the infamous Bob Baffert and owned by Robert and Beverly Lewis, who adored her so much that they left her a sort of trust fund. That money brought him back from Japan, where he went to stud, and he’s provided $10,000 a year for his welfare at Old Friends since returning to the United States.
During his racing career, he raked in nearly $7 million, but now retired, he’s more concerned with the 22 pounds of finely cut carrots he gums up each week with his remaining four teeth than he is with n anything else.
The first thing to know about Silver Charm – beyond his very impressive running record – is that he loves his routine.
Every day he is out of his stall and into his paddock at 7 o’clock sharp. This is where he spends most of his waking hours, quietly munching on grass. If you call him and he recognizes your voice, the champion might come to greet you at the fence.
Don’t try to stroke his nose, though, being touched is one of his big pet peeves.
I made that mistake on the cold day in March when I decided to visit him. As he started to approach the fence, I reached out to pet him and he stopped just short of letting me go.
No. It’s not what he wanted.
Then he turned around, went back to his grass and ignored me, until moments later Blowen arrived in a golf cart.
“What’s Antonio got for you,” Blowen shouted, as one of the workers tossed a bucket full of carrots into a small bin at the side of the fence.
Silver Charm didn’t need to be said twice.
The champion sprinted towards the fence and I saw him sink his mouth into a messy goodness of chopped carrots, molasses and some kind of food.
He has his priorities, Blowen told me, laughing.
Carrots and grass are at the top of this list.
He likes to host tour groups at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and even in retirement he continues to put on a show.
“He knows selfies,” Blowen said. “He knows where the camera is. He knows how to pose. It’s amazing to watch. It’s really, really amazing how he understands how to do this stuff.”
In general, however, Silver Charm doesn’t do much. The Kentucky Derby winner is happiest when alone or when surrounded by people he recognizes. In his youth, Blowen, who is now 75, would jump the fence and Silver Charm would run him.
No surprise, the winner of the Kentucky Derby has always won.
“Other than that, the longer you leave these horses alone, the happier they are,” Blowen said of the many thoroughbreds he takes care of at Old Friends.
He has learned to trust the people on the farm, and he knows that every day they will let him back into his barn at 4 p.m. At night, the lights of the nearby freeway irritate him, some, Blowen said. Silver Charm is therefore much happier inside his shop in the evening.
In fact, he insists.
Just before 4 p.m., he heads for the gate, turns his head toward the barn, and waits for someone to tuck him in for the night.
Silver Charm grants a grace period of about five minutes before notifying the entire farm. If too much time passes, he will pick up his hoof and bang it against the railing like he would bang a tin cup against the bars of an old prison cell.
“He’s very good at communicating things in a very simple way,” Blowen told me.
That’s part of what made him such an amazing racehorse and part of the reason Blowen was drawn to him in the first place.
It’s not just a fast horse. Silver Charm’s intelligence is unmatched. He knows when to rest and he knows how to go with the flow.
Next, Blowen told me a story about Silver Charm’s run in the Dubai World Cup in 1998. The Derby champion had traveled over 7,000 miles to compete – but in the hours leading up to the race he seemed sound asleep.
Managers thought he was confused. They thought there was no way he would win.
What Silver Charm did, however, was rest and conserve energy, and yes, he brought home the World Cup.
Blowen swears intelligence goes deeper than just taking care of yourself. He insists that Silver Charm knows the difference between being called “the greatest horse in the history of the universe” and “the greatest horse in the history of the world.”
He will boast of being the king of the universe.
The world alone, however, just isn’t good enough for him.
Ultimately, though, what Blowen actually admires about Silver Charm more than anything is her attitude.
When Silver Charm arrived at Old Friends in 2015, he quietly and calmly walked out of the trailer. He never panicked. He just accepted the change as if it had always been there.
This Kentucky Derby champion doesn’t let much bother him, Blowen said. He rides with the changes, and that’s part of what made him such a successful racehorse in his prime.
It helped him adjust to his quiet retirement and even his 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. routine at Old Friends Farm. It’s part of what made the twilight of his life so enjoyable.
“The last mile is the most exciting part of the race,” Blowen said. “They turn their heads and there’s the finish line. They can see it and that’s where the racing gets exciting. That’s where it all starts to happen. That’s what happens to me and that’s is what happens to him.”
Columnist Maggie Menderski writes about what makes Louisville, southern Indiana, and Kentucky unique, wonderful, and sometimes a little weird. If you have something in your family, your city, or even your closet that fits this description, she wants to hear from you. Say hello to email@example.com or 502-582-4053. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @MaggieMenderski.
This article originally appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal: Meet the Oldest Kentucky Derby Horse Winner, Silver Charm