Charismatic, the colt who emerged from claiming races and almost swept the Triple Crown, was named 1999's horse of the year at the Eclipse Award ceremonies in Beverly Hills, Calif., last night.
The choice for horse racing's top honor had generated considerable debate after a season that produced no great performers and no standout among the older male distance runners. Few voters would have argued that Charismatic was the most talented horse to race in the United States, but his high-profile victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and his career-ending injury in the Belmont Stakes generated much more attention and excitement than anything else that happened during 1999.
He won the voting over Daylami, the European star who captured the Breeders' Cup Turf impressively. The strong support for a foreign runner who raced only once in this country indicated how unimpressed the voters were by the U.S. horses.
Balloting for the Eclipse Awards is conducted by three groups, each of whose votes count as a bloc: the National Turf Writers Association, the Daily Racing Form and the racing secretaries of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
Charismatic was the choice of the first two groups, and the racing secretaries picked Daylami. The brilliant but erratic sprinter Artax finished third in the voting.
The choice for the best older male horse was a close one, too, with Victory Gallop edging out Behrens; a swing of a single vote could have changed the outcome. A consistent performer all season, Behrens had been the favorite to win the horse of the year title before the Breeders' Cup Classic, but his disappointing performance at Gulfstream Park cost him two titles.
The other thoroughbred champions were the choices of all three groups and were widely expected. Anees and Chilukki were the champion 2-year-old colt and filly; Charismatic and Silverbulletday were the champion 3-year-olds. Daylami and Soaring Softly were the outstanding turf performers, and Artax the top sprinter. Beautiful Pleasure was the champion older female and Lonesome Glory the leading steeplechaser.
Voting for the top human performers produced one unexpected result: Jorge Chavez dethroned Jerry Bailey as the leading jockey. Bob Baffert won another training title, edging out Charismatic's trainer, Wayne Lukas. Ariel Smith was the leading apprentice jockey, Frank Stronach the top owner and William Farish the outstanding breeder.
Charismatic was an improbable horse to emerge as the sport's brightest star. Despite his good breeding, he had been regarded as a failure for much of his career; Lukas and owner Bob Lewis didn't worry about losing him when they entered him in a $62,500 claiming race at Santa Anita in February. But by April the colt won a stakes race, and on the first Saturday in May, he scored a 31-to-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby.
That victory was popularly considered a fluke, but when Charismatic rallied powerfully to win the Preakness, he and jockey Chris Antley suddenly became America's darlings. But Charismatic's bid to become the first Triple Crown winner in 20 years was spoiled when he finished third in the Belmont Stakes, fracturing a leg in the final stages of the race.