Charm School Good for Pupil, Not Teacher

With a demeanor to match his name, Real Quiet would seem like the perfect next-door neighbor. Silver Charm, who is his next-door neighbor in Bob Baffert's barn at Churchill Downs, couldn't disagree more and, quite frankly, has seldom been happier than when Real Quiet finally shipped out Wednesday to Belmont Park for today's Belmont Stakes.

When they first met last year at Churchill Downs, it seemed like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Real Quiet was a 2-year-old getting his introduction to big-time racing, while Silver Charm, who seemed beyond his 3 years, was about to win the Kentucky Derby.

This year, it was Real Quiet's turn to run the Derby. Baffert put him in the stall at Churchill next to Silver Charm, hoping that some of his savoir faire would rub off on the more timid younger horse.

It seemed to work. The Real Quiet who arrived here this week was a much more poised and confident horse than the one who checked in at Churchill Downs less than two months ago.

"Silver Charm must have been teaching him how to act," Baffert said Friday.

Before "The Horse Whisperer" became a best-selling novel and popular movie, that would have seemed like a tongue-in-cheek remark. Now, when it comes to communication between horses and people and horses and other horses, who knows?

April Mayberry, for one.

The assistant trainer in charge of Baffert's 17 horses at Churchill Downs when he's not there, she says the relationship between Silver Charm and Real Quiet has been severely strained. Silver Charm, it seems, taught Real Quiet too well and now has become just one of the other horses in the barn.

Silver Charm, Mayberry says, is jealous.

"You can tell by his body language, read it in his face," she says. "He pins his ears, shakes his head. He's used to being the center of attention."

As last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Silver Charm is yesterday's Daily Racing Form. Real Quiet is the reigning Derby and Preakness winner, and, if he prevails today at Belmont, will become history's 12th Triple Crown winner, a distinction that seemed reserved for Silver Charm until he was upset here last year by Touch Gold.

Now, when people visit Baffert's barn, they're there to see Real Quiet.

"Silver Charm is the most unbelievable ham in the world," Mayberry says. "He knew that people were here to see him for whatever reason, and, even now, when he hears them he quits eating or sleeping and comes to the front of his stall.

"But a lot of them don't remember that he's here. I remind them so that they'll look at him too. If they've brought carrots to Real Quiet, I give them some to give Silver Charm. If you give Real Quiet carrots, you'd better give some to Silver Charm."

Mayberry, however, doesn't believe for one moment that Silver Charm is fooled.

"He knows," she says. "He's the smartest animal I've ever been around. He's got such expressive eyes that you can almost understand what he's thinking."

Even without looking into his eyes, my guess is that Silver Charm, like so many others who know horse racing, is thinking about how a pauper like Real Quiet became a superstar in the sport of kings.

Silver Charm was a relatively inexpensive horse, selling for $85,000. But that was considerably more than Real Quiet's bargain basement price of $17,000. I know Seattle Slew sold for $17,500. But that was almost a quarter of a century ago. You can't buy a good donkey for $17,000 today.

Silver Charm's owners, Bob and Beverly Lewis, made their money with Anheuser Busch distributorships. But they at least sold the beer. Real Quiet's owner, Mike Pegram, is a college dropout famous mainly for drinking it.

Although the Lewises didn't come from old money, they are older people whose knowledge, friendliness and gentility served them well with the sport's establishment. Pegram, a 46-year-old owner of 22 McDonald's restaurants in Washington state, couldn't care less about breaking bread with the bluegrass bluebloods. He'd rather have a happy meal.

Silver Charm, a distinguished gray, could be a Blood-Horse cover boy. Real Quiet has a regal look from the side, "like one of those English horses in the paintings from a hundred years ago," says his breeder, Eduardo Gaviria. But Real Quiet still has scars from the two surgeries required to correct his crooked legs and looks so narrow from the front that he was nicknamed "the Fish."

Silver Charm is headstrong and charismatic. Real Quiet is a late bloomer. "Not that he doesn't have a personality, but he's just sort of there," says Susan Forester, who manages the Glenridge Farm in Kentucky where he was born.

All of this doesn't mean that no one ever thought he would be a good racehorse.

"The one thing that sticks in my mind," Forester says, "is that he ran through the fields like he was floating in air."

Baffert likes Real Quiet because he gives him whatever he asks for, whenever he asks for it. An episode such as the one trainer Wally Dollase had here Thursday, when Orville N Wilbur's had to be scratched from today's Riva Ridge Stakes because he refused to train after having been shipped from Santa Anita, would never happen with Real Quiet.

But no one can say honestly that he or she ever thought Real Quiet would be a great racehorse.

Now Silver Charm is faced with the prospect of Real Quiet returning to his stall at Churchill Downs as a Triple Crown winner, up there with Secretariat and Citation and Whirlaway. There goes the neighborhood.

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