After ankle surgery, Charismatic `just fine'

Broken bones stabilized after failed Belmont bid

June 07, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Charismatic underwent successful surgery yesterday to stabilize broken bones in his left front ankle. The 3-year-old colt suffered the career-ending injury the day before in the Belmont Stakes as he sought to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner.

Veterinarians inserted four screws to realign the fetlock joint. Dr. Stephen J. Selway led the five-person team at the Belmont Equine Surgical Clinic at Belmont Park outside New York City.

"He'll be just fine," Selway said. "It was not the worst injury of this kind I've ever seen, but it was a nasty one."

Charismatic, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, fractured his left-front cannon and sesamoid bones while finishing third in the Belmont. After the finish line, jockey Chris Antley abruptly pulled him up, jumped off and tried to support the leg.

Antley's quick action prevented what could have become life-threatening injuries in the next couple of strides.

"I don't know if Chris Antley necessarily saved his life, but he certainly helped in preventing any further damage," Selway said. "This horse had horrendous stress, but he was an ideal patient.

"I'm conservative when it comes to condylar fractures. But I would think he'd spend 90 days in his stall, and then we'd take some more radiographs."

Outside his barn at Belmont Park, D. Wayne Lukas, Charismatic's trainer, seemed in good spirits.

"I have to keep going," Lukas said. "My job's to keep everybody focused. Somebody has to step up and say, `We'll get by this one.' "

Lukas has trained numerous horses who suffered injuries in major races. He has been criticized for pushing horses too hard, especially young ones.

But Charismatic had been "absolutely maintenance-free" and shown no sign of injury, Lukas said. Selway supported that claim.

"Let me say that this joint was pristine," Selway said. "There was no evidence of any pre-existing condition."

Charismatic suffered the injury at the end of the demanding 1 1/2-mile race after uncharacteristically racing on or near the lead the entire way. Lukas said that before the race he ran down several scenarios with Antley, the jockey, about how the race might unfold.

"That wasn't one of them," Lukas said. "He was laying a lot closer than I thought he would. But he broke so sharp and got into the race so easy that I thought it was OK. You don't give up what you get easy in a horse race."

Charismatic faltered a bit down the Belmont Park homestretch. That could have been due to the injury, or the beginning of a problem that led to the injury, Lukas said. Whether that caused Charismatic's defeat, or whether the injury occurred after Charismatic was beaten, no one will probably ever know, Lukas said.

What is clear is that the Triple Crown remains one of the most difficult feats in sports. Still, Lukas said, he thought Charismatic, a former claiming horse, would accomplish it.

"But we can't always play out these Hollywood scripts as we'd like," he said.

Meanwhile, Scotty Schulhofer, trainer of Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, said the colt's next goal will be the Travers Stakes in August at Saratoga.

With the blessing of Lemon Drop Kid's owners, Maryland residents Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance, Schulhofer did not train the colt as hard early in the year as some trainers did their Triple Crown hopefuls.

"If I could have trained him to win the Derby, he wouldn't have won the Belmont," Schulhofer said. "I didn't want to kill him. I wanted a horse for the fall and next year."

Bill Mott, trainer of Belmont runner-up Vision and Verse, said his colt will also be pointed toward the Travers.

Jerry Bailey, jockey of Silverbulletday, the filly who finished seventh, visited her early yesterday at her barn. He said she was fine after the grueling race.

If Charismatic had not dogged her on the lead most of the race, he said, she might have finished stronger.

"If she could have gotten a breather, maybe she could have kicked away from them and gotten loose," Bailey said.

Trainer Elliott Walden and jockey Pat Day said they had no explanation for the eighth-place finish of 5-2 second-choice Menifee.

Allen Jerkens, trainer of Allaire duPont's Best of Luck, said he was disappointed despite the Maryland-bred's powerful charge for fourth place.

"He just wasn't good enough," Jerkens said. "What else can you say?"

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