Charismatic left the Belmont starting gate a mile and a half from becoming a racing legend. He left the track in a horse ambulance, his racing career over.
Just moments after the Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner finished third Saturday behind Lemon Drop Kid and Vision and Verse in the Belmont Stakes, a pall dropped like a curtain over the crowd of 85,818, biggest in New York racing history, as Chris Antley pulled up the big chestnut colt and dismounted.
About an hour later, the word came that Charismatic fractured two bones in his left front leg the cannon bone and the sesamoid.
"That means he's through as a racehorse," said veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage. "We expect him to be fine as a stallion."
Dr. Jim Hunt, a veterinarian for Charismatic trainer D. Wayne Lukas, said the horse will have surgery probably Sunday or Monday, but that it was not life-threatening.
The colt's lower leg was placed in a cast and he was returned to his stall in the barn at Belmont Park, where Lukas said he was resting comfortably. Surgery at the equine hospital next to Belmont Park will insert screws to hold the fragments of bone together.
"Naturally, you hate to see a horse get hurt," said winning trainer Scotty Shulhofer. "I would have felt better if it hadn't happened."
Even if the injury hadn't occurred, it appears Charismatic wouldn't have been able to hold off Lemon Drop Kid and Vision and Verse, who were a head apart at the wire, with Charismatic another 1½ lengths back.
Bramlage said the injury apparently occurred just past the wire.
It was an unfortunate ending for the former claimer who had caught the public's imagination in his bid to give a Triple Crown to Lukas and owners Bob and Beverly Lewis. The Lewises had failed to win the Triple Crown two years ago when the Bob Baffert-trained Silver Charm finished second in the Belmont.
"We're devastated at the thought that anything could be wrong with Charismatic," Bob Lewis said.
Antley's quick action drew praise from Lukas, veterinarians and Bob Lewis.
"He was simply marvelous," Lewis said. "He might have saved the horse."
The disappointed Lukas, who has won 12 Triple Crown races and all three of them in one year but with different horses, said: "I think we had the right horse at the right place on the right day, but we didn't get the right situation."
"It's racing and these things happen. We'll deal with them."
Antley said he didn't know when the injury occurred but said he felt Charismatic ease a bit about the eighth pole.
"It was almost like letting out air. He eased off the run he started on," he said.
Lemon Drop Kid certainly deserved his victory but it was a disappointing ending, since many had hoped to see Charismatic become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
The race alswas billed as a showdown between the Triple Crown challenger and the sensational filly Silverbulletday, making her debut against males after winning 11 of 12 against fillies.
It happened for a mile, and then Silverbulletday faded to finish seventh. But her presence in the race likely played a big part in Charismatic's defeat.
Surprisingly, Charismatic chased the pace much earlier than is his custom, laying second behind Silverbulletday from the clubhouse turn until less than a half-mile remained.
"I can't believe he (Charismatic) ran away (on the pace) with her," Jerry Bailey, Silverbulletday's rider, said. "It's tough to go head and head that far, but I could see Antley's horse was kind of rank. I looked over and he was trying to get him back, but he couldn't get him back."
Lemon Drop Kid, ridden by Jose Santos, was fourth with a quarter-mile to go, then was taken outside for his winning charge down the middle of the track. He took the lead from Charismatic with an eighth of a mile remaining and won in 2:27.88.
The colt, owned by Laddie and Jeanne Vance, paid a winning mutuel of $61.50, fourth-largest in the 131-year history of the race. His place and show prices were $26 and $10.60.
Lemon Drop Kid finished a head in front of Vision and Verse, trying to become the first non-Derby and Preakness starter to win the Belmont since Shulhofer did it with Colonial Affair in 1993.
Vision and Verse paid $44.40 and $17 and Charismatic was $3.60.
Completing the order of finish after fourth-place Best of Luck were Stephen Got Even, Patience Game, Silverbulletday, Menifee, Pineaff, Prime Directive, Teletable and Adonis.
Lemon Drop Kid earned $600,000 for his second victory in five starts this year and fourth triumph in 11 career outings.
"He came over to the track great and I've said ever since we put him in training he's been a nice horse," Shulhofer said. "He needed a little time to get going and he peaked on the right day."
While Lemon Drop Kid ended up in the winner's circle, it was Charismatic who was on the minds of many as they left Belmont Park.
Once again the fragility of racehorses and the uncertainty of racing was brought home.
"All week, we talked about how maintenance-free this horse was and how durable he is," Lukas said.
The tearful Antley, who rode back into the limelight with Charismatic after being sidelined for 18 months with weight problems, said: "He gave us a lot. He gave America a lot. The game goes one."
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