Back in 1985, when he was a rising force in thoroughbred racing, trainer D. Wayne Lukas purchased a wristwatch whose colorful face expressed, as an incessant reminder, his most cherished dream. Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown—from Sir Barton in 1919 to Affirmed in 1978—and on the face of the watch, in place of the hourly numerals, are the colored silks carried by each of those winners, from one through 11 o'clock. Only 12 o'clock is not represented by a set of racing colors. Going into last Saturday's Preakness Stakes, Lukas had won 11 Triple Crown races, including all three in 1995 (with two horses) but he had never won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness with the same horse. "I've been wearing this watch for 14 years," said Lukas, his voice touched by emotion in the wake of the 124th running of the Preakness. "I wear it every time I run in a Triple Crown race. I want that green and gold to go right on that 12 o'clock high. I want to get that watch completed."
For the first time in his career, the 63-year-old Hall of Fame horseman is just one win away from the most coveted of racing achievements. Last Saturday, in a performance stunning for its boldness and authority, the Lukas-trained Charismatic, the long-shot winner of the Kentucky Derby, swept to the lead off the final turn at Pimlico, opened a three-length advantage at the eighth pole and, through the final 100 yards, under a hand ride by Chris Antley, held off Menifee to win by 1� lengths. Thus on June 5, for the third year in a row, a sound racehorse with proven credentials and a quality of gameness to boot will attempt to become the first horse since 1978 to sweep the spring classics.
Moments after Charismatic charged under the wire, an exultant Lukas was standing on the turf course at Pimlico, waiting in the late-afternoon sun as Charismatic strode toward him. "This is huge" Lukas said. Astride the colt, wearing the green-and-gold silks of Bob and Beverly Lewis, Antley was beaming. "He was better today than he was last time," the jockey said of Charismatic. "I had way more horse today than I had in Kentucky. He is such a free-running horse. It was a banner performance. Win the Triple Crown? Yes."
For Lukas and the Lewises the victory was particularly gratifying, given how Charismatic was disdained at Pimlico and sent off as the fifth choice, at 8-1. Ever since the horse ran for a $62,500 tag at Santa Anita in February—and despite his smashing triumph in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland leading up to the Derby—he could not shed the scarlet C that condemned him as a former claimer. Indeed, in a poll of 12 leading handicappers and racing writers, only two picked Charismatic to finish in the top three at the Preakness, and both of them predicted he would run second to Menifee. The colt had gone off at 31-1 in the Derby, the roughest rodeo seen in Louisville in years, and the prevailing view at Pimlico was that Charismatic had benefited from a relatively uneventful trip while all the favored horses had been crunched and clobbered. What further soured bettors was the fact that the Preakness would be Charismatic's fourth major stakes race in six weeks, an unusually grueling schedule in this era of gingerly raced 3-year-olds.
Lukas defended his charge at every turn, even risking heresy by conjuring up the brightest ornament on the colt's family tree. Charismatic's sire, 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall, is out of a mare by Secretariat, and Lukas reminded all listeners that the name of Secretariat's mother, Somethingroyal, appears one other time in Charismatic's pedigree, and Secretariat's sire, Bold Ruler, shows up twice. The colt, a thick-necked chestnut with four white feet and a white marking on his face, bears a striking resemblance to Secretariat. Furthermore, the 1973 Triple Crown winner was a phenomenal workhorse, and Lukas pointed out last week that Charismatic did not get good until Lukas drilled and raced him hard, too.
"What I've done with this horse, I don't think I could have done with any of the other horses I've brought to the Derby or the Preakness," Lukas said before the race. "They just wouldn't have stood it. He seemed to thrive on it. He is probably as tight and good and sound and eager a horse as I've had."
Charismatic looked spectacular in the post parade, his neck bowed and his golden coat glowing in the sun, and he ran to his looks. Racing six wide into the far turn, and defying a track bias that favored the rail, Antley found himself trapped by Stephen Got Even, so he yelled to the horse's jockey, Gary Stevens, "Let me out!"
"Go on, little buddy," an obliging Stevens hollered back, moving outside far enough for Charismatic to move through. Antley swung outside and hit the pump. Coming off a torrid pace that had wilted the leaders, Charismatic accelerated, sprinting past the field to the top of the stretch. There Antley went to the lash, first left-and then righthanded, and the colt drove on home as the rest of the field reeled in his draft. "He was awesome," Stevens said. "A long, sustained drive, and he ran on. He's for real."
A sense of d�j� vu permeated the aftermath. Last year trainer Elliott Walden saddled Victory Gallop for second-place finishes behind Real Quiet in the Derby and the Preakness, just as he trained Menifee in his chase to catch Charismatic. Victory Gallop ultimately did catch Real Quiet in the Belmont, spoiling his bid for the Triple Crown, and Walden is determined to be the spoiler once more, though he added wistfully, "It hurts to be second again."
The Lewises, meanwhile, relived all the joys of 1997, when their horse Silver Charm took the Derby and the Preakness and headed off in triumph for Belmont Park. The gray finished second in the Belmont to Touch Gold, but last Saturday the husband-and-wife team was back in the hunt, having become only the third owners in history to send more than one Triple Crown candidate to Long Island. (The first, Belair Stud, sent Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935; the second, Calumet Farm, saddled five in 27 years.) The Lewises fairly danced around Pimlico on Saturday, arm in arm, making their 51 years of marriage look like the world's longest honeymoon. "Can you imagine the odds of having two horses in three years winning the Derby and the Preakness and going for the Triple Crown?" Bob Lewis exclaimed. "It's unbelievable."