It’s so long for Indian Charlie, producer of top runners

| December 22, 2011

Fans of horses and horse racing love the excitement generated by the sport, but in almost all cases the sport/business/wagering enterprise becomes an affair of the heart on some level.

Like any other racing fan, I could roll out a long list of favorites over the years that range from Kentucky Derby winners to $5,000 claiming horses that, in one way or another, grabbed a piece of my heart.

Late last week news arrived that Indian Charlie passed away Dec. 15.

Indian Charlie was a good horse on the track during his brief career, but had a bigger impact in the breeding shed.

Indian Charlie, the third-place finisher to his Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Real Quiet as the favorite in the 1998 Kentucky Derby, was euthanized at the age of 16 following a bout with cancer.

He had been treated at Lexington’s Hagyard-Davidson-McGee clinic, but the specialists there could not come up with an answer for the ailment.

The Derby was the last race in a brief career that consisted of just five starts.

Owner Hal Earnhardt’s star took some time off following the Derby, but injured a suspensory ligament in training later that summer and was retired from racing.

While I admired Indian Charlie on the track, it was his breeding impact that made me a real fan.

A big reason for that was his offspring’s affinity for the main track at Churchill Downs.

That strength has been, in my view, so pronounced that almost any colt, gelding or filly sired by Indian Charlie that made a racing debut at Churchill Downs became an immediate contender.

While some pedigree players have insisted that Indian Charlie’s progeny would not get the Kentucky Derby’s distance of a mile and a quarter, I’ve been a believer that a 3-year-old sired by the former Baffert star would be wearing roses some day.

It might have happened this year if last year’s unbeaten 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo had stayed healthy on the road to the 2011 “Run for the Roses.”

Uncle Mo dominated the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs to cap a 2010 campaign in which he was unbeaten and untested.

Indian Charlie’s strength as a sire grew as the quality of the mares taken to him improved.

He produced two other champions in Indian Blessing, the Earnhardt-bred 2-year-old 2007 filly champion and 2008 top female sprinter and Fleet Indian, the champion older female of 2006. His growing success and influence could be measured in his stallion fees, which rose each year for six consecutive years until 2010.

At the time of his passing, Indian Charlie stood at Airdrie Stud of former Gov. Brereton Jones, and his 2012 fee was scheduled to match his career high of $75,000.

So there will be four remaining foal crops by Indian Charlie that could yield a Kentucky Derby winner. And there are currently two strong names on the list of Derby hopefuls for 2012 that carry his name on the top half of their pedigrees.

One is Liaison, a Bob Baffert trainee who won the $750,000 CashCall Futurity under jockey Rafael Bejaranto at Hollywood Park last Saturday, just two days after his sire’s passing. The win was his third in four career starts.

The other is Indian Ambush, who won for the first time on the closing weekend of Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

That win over 1 1/16 miles hinted at good things ahead for Indian Ambush, who is out of a Kris S. mare and should have plenty of distance on the bottom of his pedigree.

Continued development under Mott, the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs, could make Indian Ambush a real contender to provide Mott with his first win in the big race on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, where Mott has won more than 650 races heading into the New Year.

Both are good story lines, and there is plenty of time for either to play out.

Each Thoroughbred foal that hits the ground in Kentucky or any other racing and breeding locale holds the promise of being something special.

For at least a few moments, there is the dream that any foal could be “the one.”

The presence of Indian Charlie on the sire’s side of the pedigree of those foals in recent years has tended to raise that hope a notch or two.

While it’s impossible to think of his injury-abbreviated racing career as anything other than unfinished business, his current 2-year-olds and his three remaining crops will have a lot to say about his ultimate legacy in the sport and industry.

If the magic that eluded him on the track in 1998 should happen for the late sire on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, it will be reason for celebration for those that have admired Indian Charlie for all that he brought to the sport and industry.

As a racehorse and sire, he was the full package and there’s ample reason to believe his influence on the horse industry has potential to expand.

Though he is gone too soon, Indian Charlie has left us with ample reason to gaze down the road in anticipation.

There’s not much more you could ask of a good horse, and Indian Charlie lived up to that description in every way.

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