Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm founder Michael Blowen said trainer D. Wayne Lukas got a look in his eye at one point during a Dec. 4 visit to see new arrival Charismatic at the Georgetown, Ky. farm, and with a smile said, "Maybe we can run him again."
On a cold day in early December, Lukas made the 1 1/2-hour trip from Louisville to Georgetown to catch up with the son of Summer Squall that he'd saddled to a surprise victory in the 1999 Kentucky Derby and a follow-up Preakness Stakes win.
The 81-year-old Racing Hall of Fame trainer was impressed with how well the 1999 Horse of the Year looked upon his return to Kentucky from JBBA Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan, where he had stood since 2003.
"It's very gratifying to know that through a 20-year span somebody really looked after that horse," Lukas said. “No matter what happened or where he went, it was really gratifying that somebody really looked after him. He has a July hair coat; he just looks perfect."
Charismatic suffered a career-ending injury to his left front when he finished third to Lemon Drop Kid in the Belmont Stakes. Retired by owners Robert and Beverly Lewis, he stood for three seasons at Lane's End in central Kentucky before being moved to Japan.
"His ankle where he had the surgery and everything? You could hardly tell," Lukas said. "They really took good care of him. That was an eye-opener for me. He was so well cared for, evidently."
Blowen said Charismatic's arrival to the farm at about 6 p.m. ET on Dec. 3 marked a culmination of efforts that started about 10 years ago to bring him to Old Friends.
"It's just unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable," Blowen said. "It was really something."
Blowen said the chestnut bred in Kentucky by Parrish Hill Farm and William S. Farish has the personality to connect with visitors to Old Friends, which now boasts three Derby-Preakness winners as Charismatic joins War Emblem and Silver Charm.
"He's all that you could ask for and more," Blowen said. "He's kind, he's gentle; friendly. He's magnificent looking."
Blowen said Charismatic held up well on his trip from Japan, which went smoothly but was obviously demanding. It started with about a week-long quarantine in Tokyo. On the morning of Nov. 30, Charismatic left Tokyo on a five-hour flight that landed in Anchorage, Alaska. After a 90-minute layover there, another 5 1/2-hour flight to Chicago followed, with Charismatic arriving in the Windy City that evening.
He spent three nights in quarantine at Arlington Park before departing there the morning of Dec. 3 on a van to Old Friends. The ground transportation was donated by Sallee Horse Vans.
"He walked off that trailer like he came from a farm next door," Blowen said. "Not a hair out of place, not a neigh, nothing. I was like, 'Holy cow, this is unbelievable.’ ... He just settled right in like he was at home. He's really smart.
"I don't know what could ever top this,” Blowen added. “It's just amazing."
Blowen said the international trip was funded by donations from the Lewis family and Texas-based Tito's Handmade Vodka.
All three Derby-Preakness winners at Old Friends previously stood in Japan. Blowen said the farm has developed a great relationship with Japan's leading stallion farms. Rounding out the Old Friends' roster in terms of classic winners, the farm also boasts Belmont Stakes winners Sarava and Touch Gold.
During his visit, Lukas signed autographs that will be used in an Old Friends fundraiser and he jokingly feigned a lack of interest in seeing one other Old Friends dual-classic winner who was trained by Bob Baffert.
"That's such a wonderful facility and everyone is so devoted to what they do. It was a reminiscing time, I got carried away and started telling stories about Charismatic," Lukas said. "It was a fun three or four hours. It really was. At one point they said, ‘There's Silver Charm,’ and I said, 'That horse caused me too many heartaches, I'll pass on that one.’"