Silver Charm Is a Golden 3-Year-Old


Defeat in the San Felipe Stakes a year ago preceded victory in the Santa Anita Derby for trainer Bob Baffert.

The same scenario could play out in 1997 for Baffert, looking to win his second training title in the last three years at Santa Anita.

Cavonnier, who finished third in the 1996 San Felipe behind Odyle and Smithfield, won the Derby


three weeks later. He lost by a nose to Grindstone in the Kentucky Derby the next month.

Last weekend, Baffert’s Silver Charm was second to Free House in the San Felipe, and he will try to turn the tables in the April 5 Derby. If he does, Baffert will become the first trainer to win consecutive Santa Anita derbies since Wayne Lukas did it with Muttering and Marfa in 1982-83.

A little more than two weeks before the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, Silver Charm looks like the one to beat. Owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, the gray son of Silver Buck finished well in the San Felipe.

Even though the colt lost for the first time since his debut last July at Del Mar, Baffert didn’t hide his enthusiasm. He was happy Silver Charm passed the two-turn test and said he will have a fitter horse for the Derby.

Here’s one man’s opinion of the other top 3-year-olds in the area:

* Sharp Cat: She is unquestionably the best filly in California, dominating her opponents the way Glitter Woman has in Florida. She will run in the Santa Anita Derby as the most accomplished member of the field, with four Grade I victories.

How she will handle pace pressure from males remains to be seen, but she has come from slightly off the lead in five of her seven victories and has the right trainer to pull it off. Lukas won the 1988 Santa Anita Derby with Winning Colors, and she completed the parlay four weeks later in the Kentucky Derby.

* Hello: The little colt from Ireland was beaten for the first time in this country in the San Rafael earlier this month, but he lost nothing in defeat. He broke through the gate before the start, and horses seldom win after doing that. He finished well and lost by only two lengths, and he showed courage in both of his victories in the Generous (on turf) and the Santa Catalina.


* Funontherun: A son of Runaway Groom who was purchased by trainer Mel Stute because co-owner Herb Alpert wanted a gray horse, this colt showed tenacity in winning the San Rafael. He looked beaten by Inexcessivelygood at the top of the stretch but fought him off and was inching away at the end. He galloped out after the wire like a colt who wanted to do more.

* Free House: Another gray, the California-bred has been erratic at times but seems to be concentrating now, and he made no serious mistakes in the San Felipe. He got a perfect trip while chasing King Crimson, and it will be interesting to see how he deals with what figures to be a more contested pace in the Derby.

* Touch Gold: This lightly raced son of Deputy Minister is supposed to skip the Derby, but deserves mention anyway. A winner only once in four starts last year in Canada, he overcame a slow start to win a six-furlong race going away last Friday in his first try in ’97. Trained by Dave Hofmans for owner Frank Stronach, he may not be heard from in the Derby, but he will make noise again soon.

* Pacificbounty: Another California-bred, he has won three in a row for trainer Walter Greenman and is expected to be supplemented to the Derby at a cost of $30,000. A late-runner, he took advantage of a fast early pace to win the Golden Gate Derby at Golden Gate Fields in January, then did the same thing almost two months later to win the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows, knocking off the previously undefeated Wild Wonder. The Santa Anita Derby could set up for him as well. He is a colt on the rise.

* Bagshot: Like Free House, he is owned by John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery and trained by Paco Gonzalez, but has a different style than his stablemate. He wants to settle and make one run, and although he disappointed in the San Rafael, he was eight lengths clear of the field while running second to Hello in the Santa Catalina.

* Holzmeister: Although he finished fifth as the 7-2 second choice in the San Felipe, it is too early to give up on this son of Woodman. Trained by Richard Mandella, he was wide in his first race since Nov. 17, so he should improve next time out, and he did win three of four last year.


* Classic Credential: With only three starts, this son of Sky Classic doesn’t have as much seasoning as some of his classmates, but he does have ability. He is unbeaten in two tries around two turns and won a thriller against Tiberon in his first try against winners. How he’ll react to a faster pace remains to be seen, and it’s possible he eventually will do better on the turf.

Five others also deserve mention: Wild Rush, Inexcessivelygood, King Crimson, Stolen Gold and P.T. Indy.

--Wild Rush bled in the San Rafael and will show up on Lasix next time.

--Inexcessivelygood is improving, but he looks like the type who is always going to promise more than he delivers. He has four seconds and two thirds, with one victory.

--King Crimson could improve in his second try at a distance, but he could have trouble when he faces more speed.

--Stolen Gold was fourth with a perfect trip the last time out, but it was only his third start of the year and he could be coming up to his best.

--P.T. Indy was impressive while winning the restricted Pirate Cove last month, but the Pirate Cove was on turf and that may be where P.T. Indy’s future lies.



Kentucky Derby Poll


Horse Starts 1 2 3 Earnings 1. Captain Bodgit 9 6 0 3 $469,749 2. Pulpit 4 3 1 0 249,200 3. Silver Charm 5 3 2 0 294,150 4. Sharp Cat 10 7 1 0 797,855 5. Free House 8 3 2 0 353,201 6. Hello 10 5 2 1 363,419 7. Concerto 8 5 1 2 310,234 8. Ordway 6 2 2 1 426,700 9. Blazing Sword 10 5 3 1 322,710 10. Crypto Star 5 3 1 1 292,030


Advisory panel for Times poll: Jim Bolus, curator of the Kentucky Derby Museum; Trevor Denman, Southern California track announcer; Tom Durkin, track announcer in Florida and New York; and Chris Lincoln, ESPN racing analyst.