Charger Bar

She was the greatest race mare of all time.

In a sport where everyone has an opinion, where horsemen spend time, energy and emotions comparing the relative merits of athletes of long ago to those of today – debating whether distaff champions like Shue Fly, say, could have beaten See Me Do It; how Maddon’s Bright Eyes would have stacked up against Dashs Dream; whether Laico Bird could have taken Florentine – there is near-unanimous agreement to one point: Charger Bar, says virtually everyone who ever saw her race, was the greatest race mare of them all. “Charger Bar was incredible,” said Dr. Kenneth Wright, who co-owned the mare and watched her competition time after time after time.

“You’d see her in the paddock before a race, and she’d just reek with self-confidence. …She was in command, and she knew it. I took my secretary to see her once. This lady didn’t know anything about horses. She looked at her, turned to me and said, ‘Doctor, that horse is conceited.’ And that was Charger Bar – Charger Bar was conceited.” No one ever accused her of false conceit, however. She made 43 starts, all but seven of which were in stakes, which are the highest level of competition. Coming back a winner from 28, she finished second three times and third six times, earning $495,437. She was the second-richest racehorse of the 1970s.

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Wright’s father had a hankering for horses, and much of their time together was spent in the saddle. But by his mid-30s, Wright was busy building a flourishing medical practice and had neither the time for nor the interest in animals. He still enjoyed auctions, however, having been to horse and cattle sales as a youngster. One Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1970, Wright accompanied a business associate, Dr. Ed Allred of Long Beach, to a horse sale, taking along a portable TV so he could watch football. When the gavel rang down at the end of the sale, Wright and Allred owned a yearling. Splitting the $3,600 it took to buy her, they put her in training. She won one race from two dozen starts. Nonetheless, Wright thoroughly enjoyed that sole victory, and he soon let himself be talked into picking up the registration papers on a second racehorse. He was quick to note, however, that he never actually owned this one. “A fella named Wayne Charlton had bred and raised this horse called Charger Bar,” Wright said. “When I got to know her, Charger Bar was a 3-year-old. She’d only run a few times. Ed approached Wayne about buying her. Wayne would sell her, but only with certain provisions. One of those was that he be allowed to continue to train the horse. That was fine with me. I didn’t know the mare at all, didn’t know anything about her, not at first, anyway. She was just simply there. I had paid money for her. She had my name on her. But the mare never really belonged to anybody – other than moneywise – except Wayne Charlton.” Foaled in 1968, Charger Bar was a dark bay daughter of Tiny Charger and out of the stakes-winning La Ree Bar. By the pre-eminent Thoroughbred Rocket Bar, La Ree Bar would later produce Charger Bar’s half sister Anna Hi, she a stakes winner by the Thoroughbred Hempaces. Bred, trained and owned by Charlton, Anna Hi became the dam of major winner Jazzing Hi, who was trained by Charlton’s nephew, Daryn, and campaigned to a championship by Wright. By the time Wright met Charger Bar, the filly had already won a minor stakes as a 2-year-old at Los Alamitos. She had won her last start at 2 and was coming off a win in her first start at 3. The filly was en route to an unblemished season and unadulterated accolades. When it was over, Charger Bar was the world champion. “A race mare of unique distinction and unquestionable talent in 1971,” wrote Don Essary in The American Quarter Horse Journal, “Charger Bar established an impeccable record of seven wins in as many starts and finished the campaign with an unprecedented perfect season.” The winner of four consecutive stakes, she beat reigning world champion Kaweah Bar to the wire in the Chicado V, came back to romp home by nearly two lengths in the Los Alamitos Derby and trounced older horses in the Go Man Go. In her season finale, the bay filly again faced older horses, this time in the $100,000 Los Alamitos Championship. Clocking :21.82, Charger Bar brought home $55,000 while handing defeat to the finest sprinters that could be assembled on the West Coast. “It was fun to go watch her race,” Wright says. “She was kind before the race, she never got excited. You’d put her in the saddling paddock … and her eyes would come up, her ears would prick, she’d look at the other horses like she knew she was looking over her opponents, just looking to see if there was anyone there she needed to worry about. She’d walk past one and she’d almost shrug, like she was saying, ‘Easy night, again.’ You never worried when you went to see Charger Bar run, because you knew she was going to win.”

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Between October 1973 and August 1974, she triumphed in 12 consecutive stakes races. In her sixth year, Charger Bar started out strong, but a battle with dryland distemper shut her down. She lingered for what seemed like forever to her connections, before gradually beginning to recover. That was 1974, and with her third Champion of Champions race looming, she returned to training. It had been four months since she raced. She drew the inside in the Champion of Champions. The gates opened, she came out, but she didn’t run like she used to, and she drifted back. Her fifth in the Champion of Champions marked the beginning of the end of Charger Bar’s racing career. She finished third and fourth in a couple of races after that, then returned home to become a mama. Charger Bar’s first foal, Proud Heritage, was followed by a family of fine sprinters, eight winners from 10 starters, including major winner Go Proudly, an earner of nearly $200,000. Altogether, Charger Bar’s sons and daughters earned less than $3,000 shy of a third of a million dollars. Following her death at age 29 in November 1997, Charger Bar’s ashes were scattered on the infield at Los Alamitos Race Course in California. She was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2001.