By Kelsey Riley
When it comes to Canadian pedigrees, few can claim to have better bloodlines than the Samuel family’s Sam-Son Farm.
Sam-Son is the breeder of leading North American sire Smart Strike and his half sister, the legendary Dance Smartly. It has earned nine Sovereign awards as Canada’s outstanding owner and seven as outstanding breeder. Sam-Son runners have garnered three Eclipse Awards and five Queen’s Plate trophies, including last year’s with Eye of the Leopard .
Sam-Son will attempt to clinch its sixth Queen’s Plate crown July 4 when it sends homebreds Hotep, Giant's Tomb, and Dark Cloud Dancer to the post in the $1 million (Canadian funds) Canadian classic at Woodbine. Each horse comes from a family steeped in Sam-Son tradition.
“They’ve got some terrific broodmares and some terrific families, and that’s the strength of this outfit,” said Mark Frostad, the trainer of all three of Sam-Son’s Plate entries. “They have great families that just keep producing.”
Hotep, the 3-1 morning line Plate favorite, is by A.P. Indy, out of the Smart Strike mare Eye of the Sphynx. Winner of the 2004 Woodbine Oaks, Eye of the Sphynx is out of Queen of Egypt, one of Sam-Son’s most celebrated broodmares. Quiet Cleo, another daughter of Queen of Egypt, is the dam of Quiet Resolve, a Sam-Son bred Canadian Horse of the Year. Eye of the Sphynx is also the dam of Eye of the Leopard. Should Hotep win the Queen’s Plate, it would mark the second time in 10 years that Sam-Son would win back-to-back editions with full siblings. They last accomplished this is 2000 and 2001 with Scatter the Gold and Dancethruthedawn, both by Mr. Prospector, out of Dance Smartly (Danzig).
“Leopard and Hotep are full brothers, but they’re completely different,” said Frostad. “Eye of the Leopard was much more of a grinder, more one paced. This guy’s got a really good kick and he’s got more speed.”
Dancethruthedawn is the dam of Dark Cloud Dancer, the most lightly seasoned horse of the Sam-Son contingent. A son of Storm Cat, Dark Cloud Dancer boasts a pedigree loaded with Plate potential. His first two dams won the Gallop for the Guineas, and another of Dance Smartly’s sons, Dance With Ravens , was the beaten Plate favorite in 2005.
“He’s probably got more talent than (Hotep and Giant’s Tomb),” said Frostad. “He just doesn’t have the seasoning, but he can overcome that easily enough if he gets the right trip.”
Giant’s Tomb is the first winner for his dam, Song of the Wild, but his pedigree does not lack depth. His second dam is the grade I winning Wilderness Song, and her dam, Nalee’s Rhythm, is responsible for 11 stakes winning or stakes-placed horses, including grade II winner Strike Softly and 2002 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Sarava. Giant’s Tomb’s greatest Plate influence may come from his sire, Awesome Again , who won the 1997 Queen’s Plate.
While Sam-Son’s families have remained dominant on the Canadian racing scene, much has changed for the operation in recent years. In January 2008, Sam-Son suffered the untimely death of Tammy Samuel-Balaz, 47, who had taken over management of Sam-Son Farm following the death of her father, Ernie Samuel, in 2000. Less than three months later, Samuel-Balaz’s mother, Elizabeth Samuel, succumbed to cancer.
This left Samuel-Balaz’s husband, Rick Balaz, as well as her siblings, Mark Samuel and Kim Samuel-Johnson, in charge of Sam-Son Farm. Since 2008, the trio has been working to implement changes to the Sam-Son program. A longtime private stable with Frostad, Sam-Son has begun to employ other trainers, as well as adjusting its yearling training schedules and adding a commercial aspect to its operation.
“We’ve made a lot of changes in our management style,” said Balaz. “We’re bringing a lot of other people into the decision making, and that has made a big difference for us.
“The big difference is really the training of the horses before they get to the track. We’ve involved a lot more people who have been at the farm for a long time. We take a lot more time to prepare the horses before we send them to the track, and I think it’s made a big difference as far as the resilience of the horses. When they get here, they seem to be lasting a lot longer. We’re not having the kinds of breakdowns or issues we had in the past.”
While Sam-Son is best known for its turf families, Balaz indicated it may be looking to make a commercial impact with some dirt bloodlines.
“Typically, if you look at a lot of our horses, they end up being very good turf horses, and that’s just kind of from our families,” said Balaz. “But you know, now we’re looking to become a little more commercial going forward, so we’d like to have good horses, dirt horses. If we can’t run them ourselves we’d like to have horses that people would be interested in commercially. So we’re looking at changing our focus that way a little bit.”
There is no doubt that Sam-Son Farm will be focused on a Queen’s Plate triple threat July 4. And if history is bound to repeat itself, the historic operation will once again have reason to celebrate.