02/04/2013 2:03PM

Kentucky Derby Under the Radar: Proud Strike

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After last week’s races featuring Verrazano, Flashback, Revolutionary, and Falling Sky, one can feel the excitement building as it pertains to the Kentucky Derby. In this space, over the next several weeks, we’ll spotlight one promising 3-year-old that has yet to garner much press.

Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher have dominated the Derby landscape thus far in 2013, but you can never count out a Steve Asmussen-trained performer, especially one that is moving forward with each race.

Proud Strike was foaled on April 8, 2010, in Virginia. Bred by the late Ned Evans, Proud Strike was purchased by Mike McCarty for $240,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling auction.

The bay colt is a full brother to Pleasant Strike, winner of the Grade 3 Arlington Classic Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Another full brother, Curlinello, was multiple stakes placed at one mile as a juvenile of 2010 before injury cut short his promising career. A half-sister, Colonial Empress, finished a well-beaten third in the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Their dam, Colonella (by Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony), graduated at a mile and is a full sister to Colonial Minstrel who took the Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap at eight furlongs. Colonella is also a half-sister to Grade 3 sprint winner Minidar (dam of Jim Dandy Stakes winner A Little Warm) and multiple stakes winner Unrestrained.

The second dam, Minstrella (by The Minstrel), a juvenile filly of 1986, scored in three Group 1 races on grass in Europe that year. She is a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Misty Gallore.

Proud Strike’s sire, Smart Strike, prevailed in 6 of 8 starts, all for trainer Mark Frostad. Victorious at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, Smart Strike received Beyer Speed Figures of 107 or higher in five races, including a score over the legendary race mare Serena’s Song in the Grade 1 Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth.

A two-time North American champion stallion by earnings (2007-08), Smart Strike is represented by Curlin, winner of the Preakness Stakes, Dubai World Cup, and Breeders’ Cup Classic among his seven Grade 1 tallies. Other Grade 1 winners sired by Smart Strike include Breeders’ Cup Turf victor English Channel, Preakness hero Lookin At Lucky, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion My Miss Aurelia. When “nicked” with mares by Pleasant Colony, Smart Strike has sired Shoal Water, a Grade 2 winner going 1 3/8 miles on turf in Canada.

Proud Strike made his debut in a very live maiden special weight going seven furlongs at Churchill Downs on Oct. 28, 2012. After being forced out a bit in the early stages, Proud Strike raced in midpack and behind horses before passing a few tired runners in the stretch. Four emerged from that race to graduate next out, and the winner, Titletown Five, recently resumed workouts for trainer D. Wayne Lukas after undergoing surgery to remove a knee chip. All in all, it was a solid learning experience.

On Nov. 24, Asmussen stretched Proud Strike around two turns for a maiden special weight at Churchill, and the colt responded with an improved performance. Bumped lightly at the start, Proud Strike showed more early interest and ended up tracking the pace while in between horses. He made a three-wide bid turning for home and finished evenly for second behind Bradester, the runner-up in Proud Strike’s debut. The final time of 1:44.56 for the 1 1/16-mile distance compared favorably with the 1:44.97 put up by Uncaptured in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at the distance later on the same card. Bradester returned to win an entry-level optional claimer at Gulfstream with a 93 Beyer on New Year’s Day.

Proud Strike made his 3-year-old debut as a main-track-only entrant in an off-the-turf maiden special weight going 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds on Jan. 12. Sent off the 9-10 favorite under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., Proud Strike broke from the outside post in the field of 10 and assumed a three-wide stalking spot on the far turn. Proud Strike continued on that path until engaging the front-runners turning into the stretch. At that juncture, he made the lead without much fuss and widened to win by 7 1/2 lengths while drifting in noticeably. The well-beaten fourth-place finisher, Doc Almond, returned to win sprinting at Fair Grounds with an 81 Beyer.

Proud Strike has already answered the two-turn question, owns decent tactical speed, changes leads nicely, and his Beyers have lurched forward from 57 to 74 to 91. He still seems a bit green in spots and has had trouble keeping a straight path in the stretch in his last two races. Also, the quality of that off-the-turf race will certainly be debated. Still, Proud Strike has the pedigree and connections to be a nice horse and he looks stakes-bound.