It has been 19 years since Affirmed won the Triple Crown and eight since any horse even had the chance to win the coveted triple. But in 1997, Silver Charm and veteran jockey Gary Stevens thrust thoroughbred racing into the spotlight once again.
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In front of the fourth-largest crowd (141,981) in Kentucky Derby history, Silver Charm grabbed the lead with 1/8 of a mile remaining. Pre-race favorite Captain Bodgit (3-1) threatened on the outside and Free House hung tough but Stevens held them off to take the first leg by a head. It was sweet victory for trainer Bob Baffert who feared deja vu after last year's Derby, where he saw his horse Cavonnier, fade down the stretch and finish second to Grindstone. The win was Stevens' third at the Derby and culminated a week to remember as he was inducted into the National Horse Racing Hall of Fame just three days prior.
The same three horses battled it out again at Pimlico but it was Baffert's steel-gray colt who emerged victorious once again as he bobbed his head just at the right time to take the victory in the second-closest Preakness ever run.
On to Belmont where Silver Charm had the opportunity to accomplish something that only 11 other horses had. The race would also feature another battle between Silver Charm and Free House in what was becoming one of racing's classic rivalries. The two horses had faced each other in the past five races with Silver Charm holding a 3-2 lead, including the two biggies.
The two didn't disappoint at Belmont and came down the stretch with Silver Charm holding a 1/2 length lead over Free House. At the finish, Silver Charm did defeat his rival but it was a third horse that stole the show. Touch Gold, a fourth-place finisher at the Preakness, played the spoiler, turning it on in the final 70 yards despite a cracked left front hoof to nip Silver Charm by a length.
Though he missed out on the ultimate pot of gold, Silver Charm earned over $1.3 million for the three races combined and at the time of this writing, stood third on the 1997 money list. Not a bad investment for owners Robert and Beverly Lewis who paid just $85,000 for the horse two years ago.