Not long after Ken Wilkins accepted the position as director of Calumet Farm's stallion division, the historic Lexington nursery announced the stallion English Channel would be moving to Brad Kelley's farm after having previously stood at Lane's End Farm.
Both decisions look most fortuitous after this past weekend's Travers Stakes (gr. I), in which English Channel's 3-year-old V. E. Day upset stablemate Wicked Strong , adding to a hot streak for the stallion. In addition to V. E. Day, English Channel was represented by Better Talk Now Stakes winner Heart to Heart at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 20 and now has 11 stakes winners in 2014.
By taking the Travers to go along with a previous victory in the Curlin Stakes, V.E. Day showed that his sire has the ability to get runners at the highest level of North American racing on dirt, in addition to his already well-established success with turf horses. As of Aug. 24, English Channel ranked fourth on the North American sire list by turf earnings.
A son of Smart Strike produced from the Theatrical mare Belva, English Channel was North American champion grass horse of 2007 while trained by Todd Pletcher for owner Jim Scatuorchio. Owned by Scatuorchio and Kelley, English Channel stood for one year at Hurricane Hall before moving the Lane's End prior to the 2010 breeding season. English Channel stood for $25,000 this year.
Wilkins, who was widely credited with helping build the successful stallion program at B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm, was hired by Calumet to assist with development of its stallion operation.
And bringing English Channel to the farm about a week before he was represented by his first grade I winner could not have come at a better time.
"It's very exciting for us here at Calumet," Wilkins said. "He's settled in nicely. Lane's End did a fabulous job with him."
Wilkins said now having a grade I winner on dirt to go along with the grass success adds another dimension to the stallion's appeal.
"It's all there," Wilkins said. "His father, Smart Strike, was very much that way —a tremendous turf sire and tremendous dirt sire. So hopefully he can wear both hats. And hopefully it will open up a different perspective for buyers, with dirt on the resume. He has 25 in the upcoming (Keeneland September) yearling sale and I think they will be a little more valuable than they have in years past."
Not unlike Ken and Sarah Ramsey's success with leading sire Kitten's Joy , Kelley supported English Channel by breeding many of his own mares to him while the stallion stood at Lane's End. In fact, V. E. Day was bred by Kelley's Bluegrass Hall entity and sold as a yearling for $105,000. Bluegrass Hall also bred multiple graded stakes winner Optimizer, a son of English Channel racing for Kelley. Wilkins said Optimizer is set to make a return to competition soon and could add to the stallion's late season numbers.
Wilkins said that in looking over the foals of 2014 at Calumet, he can identify English Channel's offspring because they look a lot like the sire.
"(They are) chestnuts, a lot like their dad. But they are not real, real big horses because he is not a real big horse. But they are very much like him. Well balanced, with some bone to them, nice legs, and they are racehorses."
While most farms do not determine stud fees until late fall, Wilkins said with a sly smile, "He could force us to raise the stud fee."
Watch Calumet Farm stallion director Ken Wilkins update us on English Channel, V. E. Day, and more!