By Alan Porter
As Shakespeare put it, “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.” One might argue that Smart Strike was born to achieve greatness, since he was by Mr. Prospector, out of Canadian champion 3-year-old filly, and was half brother to the magnificent Dance Smartly, conqueror of colts in all three legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, and winner that same year of the Canadian Oaks, Molson Export Million Stakes (gr. II) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). Greatness eluded Smart Strike on the track, however, although he did prove himself a very talented performer, with wins in six of eight starts, including the Salvator Mile Handicap (gr. III) and Philip H. Iselin Handicap (gr. I).
Smart Strike certainly didn’t have greatness thrust upon him as a sire, either. He went through a period where his yearlings caused less than a clamor, and despite his first three crops yielding 10, seven and nine stakes winners, respectively, the initial reaction seemed to be more a grudging respect for him as a very good “racehorse sire” rather than commercial acclaim. That, however, hasn’t stopped Smart Strike’s rise to the top, and on Sunday, at Belmont Park, in the space of less than two hours, he recorded what might well be the greatest single day by any stallion in recent memory.
What was particularly extraordinary about the achievement was not only that Smart Strike’s offspring took three of the four grade I events on the program, but also that the wins encompassed such a wide range of aptitudes. First, Fabulous Strike led throughout to demolish his field in the Vosburgh Stakes over six furlongs on dirt. Then, English Channel, in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, contested over 12 furlongs on the grass, showed tremendous courage to squeeze through what might better be described as a chink than a gap, and grab his fifth grade I event. And finally, Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Curlin wore down Lawyer Ron, the established leader of the older generation, to capture the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes, run at the American classic distance of 10 furlongs on the dirt.
Those victories (and a fourth on the same weekend, in the shape of Gottstein Futurity winner Smarty Deb) thrust Smart Strike past his stud companion, A.P. Indy, to the top of the Leading Sires list, and he must now have an excellent chance of following Forty Niner as only the second son of Mr. Prospector son to earn year-end honors as Leading Sire. For the moment, Smart Strike’s statistics stand at 51 stakes winners from his first eight crops (i15 stakes winners in 2007), for a 9% stakes winners to runners percentage that includes 26 graded stakes winners. In addition to the weekend’s grade I winning trio, his best include Canadian champions Soaring Free, Eye of the Sphynx, Portcullis, Gold Strike, and Added Edge; Japan Cup Dirt (gr. I) victor Fleetstreet Dancer; Shadow Cast, winner of the Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I); and millionaire Tenpins.
One feature which has surely greatly assisted Smart Strike’s rise to the top is that he is a son of Mr. Prospector – in general terms a very good cross for Northern Dancer – and is himself free of the Northern Dancer strain. In addition, his potential affinity for Northern Dancer had already been pointed up by the fact that his stellar half sister, Dance Smartly, was by Northern Dancer’s son, Danzig.
At least 16 of Smart Strike’s graded stakes winners are out of Northern Dancer line mares, including two of the weekend’s heroes, English Channel and Curlin. This pair is the product of very different branches of the Northern Dancer male line, and this perhaps demonstrates another aspect of Smart Strike’s success, an ability to allow the best aspects of the distaff side of his mates’ pedigrees to be expressed. English Channel’s dam, Belva, is by Theatrical (IRE) (by Nureyev), a 12-furlong turf horse with an excellent turn of foot, out of Committed, a European sprint Champion who scored all three of her group I victories at five furlongs. Belva never raced, but she is a sister to Pharma, a grade I winner at nine furlongs on the turf, and Hap, successful in six turf graded stakes between eight and nine furlongs. As far as English Channel is concerned, he narrowly missed the world record for nine furlongs at Gulfstream Park earlier this year, and has grade I wins at nine, 11 and 12 furlongs.
Curlin, like English Channel, was a bargain yearling – he cost $57,000, English Channel, $50,000 – and also like English Channel is out of an unraced mare. His dam, Sherriff’s Deputy, is a daughter of Deputy Minister, and this strain always looks like a good one to try given the success of Smart Strike’s family with Deputy Minister and his sire, Vice Regent. The cross of Smart Strike with mares by Deputy Minister has produced not only Curlin, but also Tenpins; the 2007 Providencia Stakes (gr. III) victress Super Freaky; and listed-winning and graded-placed Deputy Strike.
Less predictable is the pedigree of Fabulous Strike. Bred and owned by Tea Cup Stable, he is the first foal of Fabulous Find. She broke her maiden by 6 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct on her debut, but finished off the board on her other two outings. Fabulous Strike is the best horse to emerge from this family for some considerable time. In fact, he’s the only black type winner in the first two generations. The third dam, Saratoga Sal, did produce Charmin Abrecrombe, a winner of 22 races, who did capture two black type events, albeit at the New Mexico tracks of Albuquerque and Ruidoso. The weakness of the tail-female line might be somewhat compensated for by an unusual inbreeding in the pedigree of Fabulous Find, as she is inbred 4 x 4 to the outstanding matron, Minnetonka. Unraced herself, Minnetonka went on to produce four stakes winners, including the top-class turf mare, Katonka (whose sister, Roundup Rose, is dam of Codex, the grandsire of Fabulous Find); multiple graded winner Eminency; the California Oaks winner Phaedra; and the rapid Raise a Native colt, Barrera (whose unraced brother, Tonkaton) is sire of the granddam of Fabulous Find.
Fabulous Strike himself is a product of the same Mr. Prospector/Lost Code cross as champion sprinter Squirtle Squirt and at least nine other stakes winners, including graded scorers Desert Code and Coconut Girl. He is inbred 3 x 5 to Raise a Native (through Mr. Prospector and Tonkaton, both Raise a Native/Nasrullah crosses). Through Lost Code’s granddam, he also carries Restless Native, who is similarly-bred to Raise a Native, and it might be this similarity that is the key to the success of the Mr. Prospector and Lost Code cross.