02/16/2012 4:52PM

2011 stallion honors: Smart Strike, leading turf sire

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The successes of Curlin, Lookin At Lucky, and My Miss Aurelia tend to make us forget that, before these golden years as a sire of main-track heroes, Smart Strike was better known as a sire of turf runners. He returns to that realm as the leading turf sire of 2011, with earnings that put him ahead of younger upstart Kitten’s Joy.

Last year, Smart Strike had 13 stakes winners, including seven on the grass. Leading the way was Never Retreat, a 6-year-old mare who earned $902,288 in 2011. All five of her wins came in graded stakes – the Grade 3 Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream, the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland, the Grade 2 Dance Smartly and Grade 2 Canadian Stakes at Woodbine, and the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes at Keeneland’s October meet.

Smart Strike’s other grass stars in 2011 included Air Support, winner of the Grade 2 Virginia Derby and Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes; Smart Bid, who won the Grade 2 Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap; Denomination, winner of three Grade 3 stakes, including the Athenia Handicap; Hit It Rich, who won the Grade 3 Long Island Handicap; and stakes winners Apple Charlotte and Miss Blakely.

Smart Strike was bred and raced by Sam-Son Farms and foaled at the farm in Ontario, Canada. By Mr. Prospector, he comes from one of Sam-Son’s great families; he is out of the Canadian champion Classy ’n Smart and is a half-brother to Canadian Horse of the Year Dance Smartly. His second dam, Canadian broodmare of the year No Class, also produced champions Sky Classic, Regal Classic, Grey Classic, and Grade 1 winner Always a Classic. The family members won their championships on dirt and turf alike, and Smart Strike himself was a stakes winner on dirt, in the Grade 1 Philip H. Iselin Handicap and Grade 3 Salvator Mile, both at Monmouth in the summer of 1996, when he was 4.

Smart Strike was retired to Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky for the 1997 season. Although his first crop produced a remarkable 10 stakes winners, success did not come early. Many of those, such as Tenpins and Fleetstreet Dancer, didn’t crank it up until they were 4 and 5. His second crop included Canadian champions Portcullis and Soaring Free, but again, later maturity was the rule, and now there was a growing turf element. This shifted Smart Strike into the ranks of a good sire, but he was not yet one of the commercial elite.

Life carried on in a quietly profitable way until one glorious September afternoon at Belmont in 2007, when three of Smart Strike’s progeny won Grade 1 races: Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, English Channel in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Fabulous Strike in the Vosburgh. Smart Strike’s fee went from $50,000 in 2006 to $75,000 in 2007 to $150,000 in 2008. This year, his fee is $85,000, which places him among the top nine North American stallions, and deservedly so.

Smart Strike now seems to get runners at all ages, distances, and surfaces, although he still gets several good turf runners. Only a few Smart Strikes have done as well under European conditions, however, so he remains primarily a North American phenomenon. It could be that they prefer the harder, faster courses here than those overseas, or that his Mr. Prospector bloodline just doesn’t hold the same magic for breeders and buyers across the Atlantic, in distant lands where Northern Dancer strains reign supreme.

Smart Strike’s best nick is with Northern Dancer-line mares, but Never Retreat is bred a little differently, being out of a mare by Steady Growth, by Briartic. While Northern Dancer and the speedy Briartic were sons of Nearctic, they were far from interchangeable. Smart Bid, Air Support, and Denomination are bred on the proven nick, however, out of mares by Danzig, Danzig, and Storm Cat, respectively.

Smart Strike was joined at Lane’s End by two of his best sons, Curlin and English Channel (both out of Northern Dancer-line mares). The physical differences between the sons, from the giant Curlin to the neat, little English Channel, shows Smart Strike’s modus operandi. His offspring tend to throw back to their dam’s side in type and ability, but Smart Strike takes the class up about 20 notches, similar to how Mr. Prospector achieved such great success.

Now 20 years old, Smart Strike is one of the premier sires in North America. His reputation is owed to the versatility of his progeny, and that versatility is one reason why this great stallion is the leading turf sire of 2011.

Smart Strike pedigree