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Smart Strike remembered for versatility
By Joe Nevills and Nicole Russo
Smart Strike’s death March 25 due to complications from laminitis brought an end to one of the most complete résumés a modern Thoroughbred has known.
A product of Canada’s most prominent modern family, Smart Strike lived up to expectations on the racetrack, becoming a Grade 1 winner in the U.S. He then became a cornerstone member of a deep stallion roster at Lane’s End in Versailles, Ky., where he led the North American sire list twice by earnings and sent out high-level runners in every division laid before him.
By the time his number was called, he had just about done it all.
Nowhere was his versatility better illustrated than at Belmont Park the afternoon of Sept. 30, 2007, when his sons filled out three legs of the day’s late pick four, picking up three Grade 1 races at different distances and surfaces.
First Fabulous Strike drew clear on the rail to win the Vosburgh Stakes, a six-furlong dirt sprint. The next race saw English Channel burst through an open seam on the Belmont turf to win the 1 1/2-mile Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes. In the feature, then-3-year-old Curlin earned a statement victory in his campaign for Horse of the Year, besting older foe Lawyer Ron by a neck in the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup.
That span of about 1 1/2 hours gave Smart Strike more Grade 1 winners in 2007 than all but two North American stallions for the entire year.
By the end of the year, Curlin and English Channel were destined for Eclipse Awards, and Smart Strike owned the single-season record for North American progeny earnings with $14,358,570, a mark that held until 2014. His run at the top continued into 2008, leading the North American sire standings by progeny earnings for a second year.
Seven and a half years after Smart Strike’s apex moment at stud, William S. Farish and the team at Lane’s End were left on eggshells as the farm’s 23-year-old active flagship sire showed signs of decline from the reviled hoof disease.
“We had been nursing him along for about 10 days or so,” Farish said. “Unfortunately, we knew something was going to happen, and we were just hoping that it didn’t. Of course, it did. I was obviously very sad about it. He’s been a fabulous stallion for us, and we owe it all to the Sam-Son family. They did the most remarkable job of supporting him all through his breeding career, but particularly in the beginning.”
Carrying the Canadian flag
It takes a lot to be noted as a standout in the Sam-Son Farm breeding program.
The Milton, Ontario, operation is responsible for an army of Sovereign Award winners and high-level producers. Much of the farm’s success stems from late founder Ernie Samuel’s $25,000 purchase of the Nodouble filly No Class as a yearling in 1975.
Stakes-placed No Class went on to produce Sky Classic, a champion in the U.S. and Canada, as well as Canadian champions Regal Classic, Grey Classic, and Classy ’n Smart and Grade 1 winner Always a Classic. No Class was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1997.
The most successful producer of No Class’s three fillies was Classy ’n Smart, the dam of 1991 Canadian Horse of the Year Dance Smartly and the grandam of Canadian champion Dancethruthedawn. Classy ’n Smart earned her own place in the Canadian Hall of Fame in 2004.
Classy ’n Smart’s fifth foal was a Mr. Prospector colt who was given the name Smart Strike and campaigned as a homebred under trainer Mark Frostad. His on-track career was brief, winning 6 of 8 starts for $337,376, but only one of those efforts placed him worse than second.
Smart Strike proved adept at the middle distances, taking the Grade 3 Salvator Mile Handicap at Monmouth Park in 1996 before stretching out to 1 1/16 miles to win the Grade 1 Philip H. Iselin Handicap at the same track, beating the likes of Serena’s Song, Eltish, Petionville, and Our Emblem.
A condylar fracture to the right front leg ended Smart Strike’s on-track career prior to the 1996 Breeders’ Cup, and he was retired to Lane’s End for the following breeding season.
“I was so high on this horse early on, and when he got hurt, I went up to Canada and met with Ernie Samuel,” Farish said. “They had him there on the farm recuperating. He said to me, ‘You know, Will, there’s a lot of people interested in this horse,’ and I said, ‘I know, but I’m the only one here, and I’m not going home until we make a deal.’ He laughed, but an hour later, we shook hands. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Smart Strike never set foot in Canada again after age 4, but his accomplishments on the track and at stud kept him in the national spotlight and earned him a place in the Canadian Hall of Fame in 2008 alongside many of his relatives.
Fittingly, a portion of Smart Strike’s ashes were returned to his home country to be interred at Sam-Son. The horse’s additional ashes have been placed at Lane’s End.
“Our family and the extended Sam-Son Farm family are deeply saddened by the passing of our great champion, Smart Strike,” said Sam-Son Chief Executive Officer Mark Samuel, the son of Ernie Samuel, on behalf of the managing Samuel and Balaz families. “The excitement that he provided to us on the racetrack was surpassed only by the prowess that he showed as a stallion.
“Being named North America’s leading sire – twice – is something that we will always treasure and admire about him. We are happy to confirm that his final resting place will be both here at his birthplace in Canada beside his brilliant half-sister Dance Smartly and also at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky, where he stood his stellar stallion career.”
Smart Strike was in the midst of his 19th season at Lane’s End at the time of his death, standing for an advertised fee of $100,000, the highest at the farm.
He stood his first season in 1997 for $30,000, making him the third-most-expensive advertised offering on a roster that included heavyweights such as A.P. Indy, Dixieland Band, Kingmambo, Gulch, Rubiano, and Summer Squall.
The space in between those points saw Smart Strike’s foals earn eight Eclipse Awards, nine Sovereign Awards, four Breeders’ Cup victories, and a pair of Preakness Stakes wins. Smart Strike was represented in the auction ring by a trio of seven-figure yearlings and a $1.8-million juvenile.
“We just had tremendous hopes for him from the beginning,” Farish said. “Of course, they don’t usually end up being two-time champions, but in this case, he really delivered the whole package.”
Through March 30, Smart Strike had sired 773 winners from 1,049 starters for earnings of $118,768,027. His first 15 crops of racing age have been highlighted by 113 stakes winners and 56 winners of graded or group stakes.
While some stallions find a niche and exploit it to a long and fruitful career, Smart Strike sired a wide spectrum of elite runners. His award winners received merits for overall excellence (two-time U.S. Horse of the Year Curlin and Canadian Horses of the Year Never Retreat and Soaring Free), running on turf (English Channel in the U.S. and Portcullus in Canada), sprinting (Soaring Free), and starting fast (U.S. juvenile champions Lookin At Lucky and My Miss Aurelia, and Canadian champion Added Edge).
Smart Strike was North America’s leading turf sire in 2007 on the strength of English Channel’s Eclipse Award-winning season and again in 2011, propelled by the campaign of Canadian Horse of the Year Never Retreat.
He ranks third all time among North American sires by progeny earnings over synthetic surfaces with more than $13.4 million, trailing only Bold Executive and Giant’s Causeway.
A highly distinguished group of five horses have earned Eclipse Awards as champion 2-year-old and 3-year-old male. The first four were Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid. Lookin At Lucky, a son of Smart Strike, joined the exclusive club with titles in 2009 and 2010.
Cream of the crop
Arguably the greatest contribution to Smart Strike’s legacy resides in a stall on the other side of the aisle at Lane’s End in two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.
The strapping chestnut provided his sire four Eclipse Awards, his first U.S. classic winner, and victories in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup. He retired in 2009 as North America’s all-time leading earner with $10,501,800 and was enshrined in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2014.
Curlin has also been a leader in establishing Smart Strike as a sire of sires, headed up by the Farish-bred Palace Malice, winner of the 2013 Belmont Stakes.
“Curlin was such a phenomenal racehorse and put the exclamation point on Smart Strike’s career,” Farish said. “It’s been a great thing for Smart Strike, and needless to say, we’re so proud of Curlin. He’s continuing to improve every year. It’s such a thing for us to have his greatest son standing at the farm.”
Stonestreet Stables, owned by Barbara Banke and the late Jess Jackson, bought into Curlin after his debut, a 12 3/4-length romp at Gulfstream Park, and eventually took over majority interest.
“Smart Strike was a part of our family for our entire time in this great sport,” Banke said. “I followed him as a great but underrated stallion when we first started breeding, so when we had the opportunity to purchase Curlin, we knew that he had the potential to be a great horse.”
Banke said Smart Strike’s banner day at Belmont in 2007, highlighted by Curlin’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, was her personal tipping point on the sire’s abilities, and Stonestreet became a frequent customer from that point on.
“Smart Strike became my favorite stallion,” she said. “We have continued to breed to Smart Strike consistently and purchase Smart Strike offspring.”
Stonestreet went back to the well in 2008, breeding the Grade 3-placed stakes-winning Sea of Secrets mare My Miss Storm Cat to Smart Strike and producing My Miss Aurelia the following year. She became a three-time Grade 1 winner and Stonestreet’s first homebred champion, securing the Eclipse as champion 2-year-old filly in 2011.
Farish said Smart Strike covered about six mares in 2015 before laminitis sidelined him. The ensuing foals will mark the end of an era, but the work of his sons and daughters ensures the family isn’t going away anytime soon.
In addition to Curlin’s exploits at stud, English Channel – who stands at Calumet Farm – has sired the likes of Travers Stakes winner V. E. Day and Singapore Cup winner Parranda. Lookin At Lucky, based at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud, was Kentucky’s leading juvenile sire by winners with his first crop. Meanwhile, multiple Grade 2 winner Dominus’s first foals are yearlings of 2015. That Stonestreet colorbearer stands at Spendthrift Farm.
Smart Strike’s regional presence is headed up by the leading Iowa sire Added Edge, as well as California sires Papa Clem and Square Eddie, Louisiana sire Tenpins, Smart Bid in New York, and Swagger Jack in Indiana.
Smart Strike also will begin to have a wider presence in the broodmare sire ranks as his fillies continue to develop into veteran producers. He already has made a mark in that realm as the broodmare sire of the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, out of Mining My Own.
Daughters of Smart Strike also have produced Canadian champions Inglorious and Eye of the Leopard, Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Shared Account, and Grade 1 winner First Dude.
“I think he’s going to be remembered for the soundness that he put into his progeny and the ability on virtually all surfaces,” Farish said. “Very few sires do that: get as many grass horses as dirt horses as synthetic horses. I think, more than anything, that will be something that will show up through the years as a remarkable quality.”
1992, Mr. Prospector - Classy 'n Smart, by Smarten
RACE RECORD: 8-6-1-0, $337,376
MAJOR VICTORIES: Grade 1 Philip H. Iselin H. (1996), Grade 3 Salvator Mile H. (1996)
STUD RECORD: 773 winners from 1,049 starters (113 stakes winners, 12 champions) for earnings of $118,768,027 through March 30
STALLION HONORS: Leading sire, 2007 and 2008
CHAMPIONS SIRED (12): United States – Curlin (2007 Horse of the Year, 3-year-old male; 2008 Horse of the Year, older male), English Channel (2007 turf male), Lookin At Lucky (2009 2-year-old male; 2010 3-year-old male), My Miss Aurelia (2011 2-year-old filly). Canada – Added Edge (2002 2-year-old male), Eye of the Sphynx (2004 3-year-old filly), Gold Strike (2005 3-year-old filly), Never Retreat (2011 Horse of the Year, turf female), Portcullus (2002 turf male), Soaring Free (2003 male sprinter; 2004 Horse of the Year, turf male). Puerto Rico – Dr Arbatach (2003 imported sprinter, imported older male), Silver Streaker (2003 imported older female)
AMERICAN CLASSIC WINNERS (2): Curlin (2007 Preakness), Lookin At Lucky (2010 Preakness)
BREEDERS’ CUP WINNERS (4): Curlin (2007 Classic), English Channel (2007 Turf), Furthest Land (2009 Dirt Mile), My Miss Aurelia (2011 Juvenile Fillies).
ADDITIONAL GRADE/GROUP 1 WINNERS: Centre Court, Crown Queen, Fabulous Strike, Fleetstreet Dancer, Minorette, Shadow Cast, Square Eddie, Streaming, Swagger Jack
THE SECOND GENERATION
SONS AT STUD: Added Edge (7 stakes winners sired), Ante Up, Channeled, Curlin (16), Curlinello, Dominus, Drinkwiththedevil (3), English Channel (17), Grand Marshall, Hyrule, It’s So Simple, Lookin At Lucky (5), Papa Clem (4), Naval Strike, Smart Bid, Smartthinkin’tony, Square Eddie (2), Strike for Glory, Swagger Jack, Tenpins (9), Threeandoh, Zampano, Zanzibari
GRADE/GROUP 1 WINNERS SIRED BY SONS: Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice (Curlin); Parranda (English Channel); V. E. Day (English Channel)
TOP PRODUCING DAUGHTERS: Mining My Own (dam of Kentucky Derby winner and Canadian champion Mine That Bird; dam of multiple Grade 1 winner Dullahan), Silk n’ Sapphire (Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Shared Account), Eye of the Sphynx (Queen’s Plate winner and Canadian champion Eye of the Leopard), Noble Strike (Queen’s Plate winner and Canadian champion Inglorious), Smart ’n Stormy (Panamanian Horse of the Year Smart D N A), Coral Genius (Chilean champion sprinter Desert Power), Nosmallachievement (Korean champion 3-year-old male Cowboy Son).
How can his final resting place be both places??
Superb analysis of a complete thoroughbred and Canadian addition to the best of world class thoroughbred breeding. Versatile and successful at the top class on artificial, grass and dirt, at all distances, puts Smart Strike in a league with AP Indy, Giant's Causeway. His valuable breeding nick to Northern Dancer assures a productive, long time Canadian influence.
EXCELLENT WRITE UP on a MOST EXCELLENT HORSE !!!! Thank y'all !!!
The absolute cornerstone of Thoroughbred racing and the KING of the Stallion barn. RIP my MAN. God will be in charge of your BOOK and the Ladies in Heaven.