I have a short list of favorites and at the top of the list has always been the entry of Silver Charm and Real Quiet. If Silver Charm was why I fell in love with horse racing to begin with, Real Quiet was the reason I have stayed in love with the sport through its ups and downs. Needless to say, receiving word that Real Quiet had passed away Sept. 27 at age 15 was as startling as it was upsetting.
Real Quiet's story is well known. In the spring of 1998, trainer Bob Baffert was expected to win not only his second Kentucky Derby, but his second consecutive one. Silver Charm had delivered in 1997, and the betting public thought for sure Baffert would win again. They were right; they just got the horse wrong. Although Indian Charlie went off as the favorite, it was Real Quiet who would wear the Roses.
Looking back on it, I think I liked Real Quiet so much before the Derby because he was the second stringer. He was the stablemate to the star, the underdog. Famously, or rather infamously, nicknamed "The Fish" because of his narrow physique, he was a bit on the plain side. That didn't matter though. He went on to win the Preakness, but lost the Belmont in a photo finish to Victory Gallop, who had finished second to him in the previous two races.
Those reporters who covered that Belmont can tell that particular story better than I. All I can do is explain why Real Quiet was special to me.
No one ever questioned my love of Silver Charm. After all, he was a beautiful gray that almost won the Triple Crown and became the first Kentucky Derby winner to also take the Dubai World Cup. But Real Quiet, well that was a different story. The most common thing said about him was that he would not have been a deserving Triple Crown winner, even though he came the closest of them all since Affirmed. I have defended him for years, and I think time has helped others realize his talent.
Something borderline unique about Silver Charm and Real Quiet is that they were kept in training beyond their 3-year-old seasons. In other words, they stuck around long enough for people to care about them. Because they were both trained by Baffert, they also had some priceless photo ops.
"I worked Silver Charm and Real Quiet together a mile at Santa Anita one day," recalled Baffert. "I was so nervous that day, I'll never forget. They turned for home, and it was Gary Stevens on Silver Charm and Dana [Barnes, the exercise rider,] was on Real Quiet. They hit the wire together. You couldn't separate them. It was amazing. It was two great athletes."
Beyond that, a large part of why Real Quiet is still close to my heart today stems not from his Derby victory, but rather his heartbreaking Belmont defeat. It is, after all, part of Duckworth family lore. You see, my birthday is June 6, and if you go back through the history books, you will see that the 1998 Belmont took place on that very day. And guess what I wanted for my birthday?
I have a freakish ability to call close races, and I knew Real Quiet had been nipped at the wire. It effectively ruined my birthday. But what makes it a story that gets told during family gatherings has to do with my older brother, Brandon.
In the weeks leading up to the race, Brandon came up with the brilliant plan that Real Quiet should get his nose done, just in case. Chances are there is no rule on the books about a horse having cosmetic surgery done to lengthen his snout. Those joking words would come back to haunt me and amuse him for years to come. After all, Real Quiet did in fact end up losing by the thinnest of margins.
On occasion, and if there is just cause, I have the habit of blaming those around me if a favorite loses. Needless to say, 12 years later a small, irrational part of me still blames my brother. Obviously, he had nothing to do with it, but it is the only way I can find to explain how Real Quiet lost that photo.
Of course, there has always been debate that Real Quiet would have been taken down for interference in the stretch anyway. We will never know. But for those that say he wouldn't have been a deserving Triple Crown winner, I simply reply that any horse that wins those three races deserves the title.
Real Quiet was a Grade 1 winner at 2, 3 and 4 years old, and even though he was never viewed as a fashionable stallion, he sired one of the most talented runners we have seen in dual, Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute. I am glad he has a champion son to keep his name alive.
Regardless, Real Quiet was special to me and my family. We collectively thank him for the memories and send our deepest condolences to all of those who cared for him over the years.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org