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Triple Crown Pot Gets Sweeter; Lewises Could Earn $6.6 Million


Sweeping the Triple Crown series will be worth an additional $1.6 million to Silver Charm, according to an announcement Wednesday from the races' sponsor, which apparently responded to a contradiction in its bonus guidelines.

If Silver Charm wins the Belmont Stakes on June 7, adding to the victories he scored in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, his owners, Bob and Beverly Lewis of Newport Beach, would end up with $6.6 million for the three races.

The windfall would be the result of a change from the Triple Crown rules that have been in place since 1986. Until a few days ago, when the current sponsor, Visa USA, hiked the pot, a Triple Crown sweep would have been worth a $5-million guarantee that included purse moneys.

Now Silver Charm's haul from the Triple Crown would represent a $5-million bonus in addition to the estimated $1.6 million from purses for the three races.

The colt has already earned $1,188,150 in purse money from the Derby and Preakness. The winning Belmont Stakes purse, which is determined by how many horses run, has been estimated at $432,600.

Visa agreed to the Triple Crown increase after a meeting between Tom Meeker, president of Churchill Downs and Triple Crown Productions, and Carl Pascarella, president of Visa USA.

"There's confusion in the marketplace about the bonus," Meeker reportedly said.

"Then maybe we should end the confusion," Pascarella said.

Literature about the Triple Crown says one thing in one place and another thing in another place. By adding the estimated $1.6 million to the pot, Visa won't be covered by insurance for the extra money. The credit-card company, according to a Triple Crown spokesman, has been carrying insurance that covers about $3.4 million.

"I'm glad that Mr. Pascarella has the enthusiasm for racing to do this," Bob Lewis said. "This is a very generous thing to do, and if Silver Charm wins the race, some of the extra money will be passed along to our jockey, Gary Stevens, and our trainer, Bob Baffert. They could win enough to be in a position to set up college trust funds for their children."

Stevens' standard 10% of the winnings would amount to about $670,000, instead of $500,000 under the old rules, and Baffert's 12%--which includes 2% that would go to his stable crew--would be $792,000 instead of $600,000. That leaves about $5.1 million, instead of $3.9 million, for the Lewises.

"Given the significance [of the Triple Crown], we wanted to ensure that there were no questions regarding the prize structure," Pascarella said.

Replacing the Chrysler Motor Co. in 1996, Visa signed a five-year contract to sponsor the Triple Crown series and inherited guidelines that may have been ambiguous all along. In a news release about the Triple Crown that was issued this spring, there was a reference to a $5-million bonus that doesn't include purse moneys. Then in a summary of the Triple Crown rules, the $5-million total is said to include purses. In the conditions for the Triple Crown series, there is a vague reference to a Triple Crown bonus, without stating the amount.

"What happened," said Karl Schmitt, a vice president at Churchill Downs, "is that there used to be a $1-million bonus that went to a horse who didn't win the Triple Crown but had the most points for high finishes in the races. That bonus was eliminated in 1993, and the $5-million for a sweep was still called a bonus by a lot of people. But since no horse has been in Silver Charm's position since 1989, when Sunday Silence won the Derby and the Preakness, nobody gave it much thought until now."

Sunday Silence ran second in the Belmont. Silver Charm is trying to become the 12th Triple Crown champion and the first since Affirmed in 1978. A Belmont victory would push Silver Charm over the $7-million mark and leave him in third place on the earnings list. Cigar earned $9,999,816 and Alysheba retired with $6,679,242. John Henry is currently third with $6,597,947. The record for most money won in one day is held by Spend A Buck, who pulled in a $600,000 purse and a $2-million four-race bonus by winning the Jersey Derby at Garden State Park in 1985.

At Churchill Downs, where Silver Charm is training before he's flown to New York next Wednesday, the colt worked six furlongs Wednesday in 1:14 4/5, galloping out another eighth of a mile in 1:27 3/5.

"He didn't work like a $1-million horse, he worked like a $5-million horse," a confident Baffert said.

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