Triple Crown: Alysheba, Charismatic

A virtually ignored horse before the Derby, Alysheba had a terrific pedigree, as the son of 1978’s Alydar, but had only won one of his first nine races and was the bettors’ sixth choice at 8-1. However, he reached his peak at the right time. The day of the Derby saw the colt nearly knocked down by Bet Twice, only to recover and battle desperately down the stretch. In one of the most physical Derbies in recent memory, Alysheba ultimately prevailed by less than a length…

33 Years of Hearbreak: The 12 Most Excruciating Near-Misses in the U.S. Thoroughbred Triple Crown Since 1978 – Part Three of Six

9. Alysheba (1987)

In the Preakness, Alysheba was installed as the 2-1 favorite and once again prevailed over Bet Twice by an even narrower margin.

For the Belmont, Alysheba became the 26th horse in Stakes history to earn “odds on” numbers, meaning better than 1-1 odds, after becoming the 4-5 favorite. Thoroughbred insiders, however, largely dismissed his Triple Crown chances, citing his slow winning times at the Derby and Preakness and the fact that he was barred from his usual doses of Lasix, an anti-nosebleed medication, as it was illegal in New York at the time. A groundswell of support from the masses rose largely in response to the experts’ dismissal of Alysheba, leading him to be given the moniker “America’s Horse”.

Unfortunately, whether due to missing his medications or the strenuous racing schedule, the experts proved to be right regarding Alysheba. The horse ran a listless Belmont, finishing fourth and 14 lengths before the winner, Alysheba’s rival Bet Twice. The two horses would lead a spirited rivalry for the next couple of years, racing each other nine times in total, with Alysheba winning five meetings and Bet Twice winning four. Blood-Horse Magazine listed Alysheba as #42 in their Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century.

8. Charismatic (1999)

Charismatic was another unheralded horse leading into the 1999 Kentucky Derby, a 31-1 shot. However, the horse surprised Derby viewers by beating Menifee by a head. Bettors were apparently more impressed by Menifee’s showing, however, and installed the Derby’s second-place finisher as the 5-2 favorite. Charismatic was the 8-1 second choice. Making his move at the end of the final turn, Charismatic pulled out in front, holding off Menifee’s late stretch to win the Preakness. Menifee again finished second. After the race, comparisons flew fast and furious between 1999’s Big Three races and 1978, the last Triple Crown season, when Affirmed won all three races with Alydar finishing second in all three races.

On the morning of the Belmont, bettors finally gave Charismatic his due, putting him up as a 2-1 favorite over Menifee, now as a second choice at 7-2. A then-record 85,000+ fans arrived to watch Charismatic make a run towards history, but it was not to be. Charismatic ran a good early race and roared into the lead in the final furlong. Just when it looked as if the Triple Crown was in his grasp, Charismatic inexplicably faded just before the line and finished third to Lemon Drop Kid. Moments later, jockey Chris Antley leapt off of Charismatic and held up his right front leg. The horse had fractured the leg in two places coming down the home stretch. Sensing the break, Antley had purposely eased up on Charismatic’s furious stretch run for the pole. Antley was later widely praised for his actions, with many horse racing insiders opining that he saved Charismatic’s life by sensing that something was wrong with the champion horse’s gait and stopping him before he injured himself more seriously. Menifee, Charismatic’s rival, was never in serious contention and finished a disappointing eighth, the only time in his career that he finished worse than third place.

Sadly, as a postscript to Charismatic’s brilliant 1999 career, jockey Chris Antley was found in his home 18 months later, dead from a massive multiple drug overdose, after fighting a drug habit for many years. His death lent airtime to a fairly widespread problem among some champion jockeys, who have historically faced temptation to take illegal drugs to stay below weight.

Article Contributed by Gabriel Ruzin.

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