Dance Smartly Epitomized Samuel's Breeding Program

Published in the Aug. 2, 2003 issue of The Blood-Horse
For Tammy Samuel-Balaz, the memories of those magical days of Dance Smartly are vivid, as if they happened yesterday and not 12 years ago.

For Canadian racing fans old enough to remember, the video clip of the Samuel family going berserk as Dance Smartly charged to the wire in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Churchill Downs is hard to forget.

Dance Smartly not only became the first Canadian-bred to win a Breeders' Cup race, but the victory, her eighth in a spectacular, undefeated 3-year-old campaign, made her the world's all-time leading money-winning filly or mare and brought needed recognition to the Canadian breeding industry.

Bred and raced by the late Ernie Samuel's Sam-Son Farm, Dance Smartly earned an Eclipse Award as 1991's best sophomore filly and helped Samuel collect the Eclipse for top owner. The filly also cleaned up at her home country's Sovereign Awards when named Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old filly.

"I don't think about her without believing she was one of those magical, lightning strike things," said Samuel-Balaz, who, along with her mother, Elizabeth, has continued on with the Sam-Son dynasty.

"I still remember her coming around the turn (at Churchill) and when we realized that she was opening up, it really was incredible," said Samuel-Balaz. "You felt you were just flying. I mean, for her to be the first Canadian-bred to win a Breeders' Cup race, she just showed them that everything she did up to that point was legit."

The story of Dance Smartly epitomizes the powerful breeding empire first developed by Samuel more than three decades ago.

It was then that Samuel, an active member of the show-horse circuit and owner of the gigantic Samuel & Son metal works company, jumped into the Thoroughbred business--first dabbling with modestly bred claiming horses and then yearling purchases.

In 1975, two of his initial yearling purchases, fillies by Nodouble and Quadrangle, proved to be the cornerstones of the Sam-Son breeding operation.

Samuel liked to joke that No Class, the Nodouble filly that cost him $25,000, was the last horse he named himself before turning those duties over to Elizabeth.

No Class was a decent allowance runner who became one of the first Sam-Son broodmares. Her second foal, Classy 'n Smart, won the '84 Canadian Oaks and was the first of four champion offspring.

Classy 'n Smart, by Smarten, went to the breeding shed following her 3-year-old campaign and was presented with only the most fashionable mates. After producing a Secretariat colt, she foaled a leggy Danzig filly in '88 with an unusual head marking, earning the soon to be named Dance Smartly the nickname "Daisy."

Jim Day, Sam-Son's private trainer at the time, said Dance Smartly only stood out as a foal because of her breeding.

"Of course, we had high expectations for her because of her family connections," said Day. "She was tall and leggy and a nice foal."

Dance Smartly trained in groups with numerous other blue-blooded young horses, and progressed steadily in her training but didn't catch anyone's eye.

That is until a month before her career debut.

"One day, I'll never forget it," said Day. "She worked half a mile with some others; it was a routine breeze, a chapter in the book at that stage. (Jockey) Brian Swatuk was on her and when he came back he looked at me and said, 'This might be the best horse I've ever sat on in my life.' And he's never been a 'b.s.' er about a horse's value."

On July 7, 1990, Dance Smartly was the worst kept secret at Woodbine. She won her debut by 3 1/2 lengths.

Following an easy allowance score, Dance Smartly was surprisingly beaten in Fort Erie's Ontario Debutante Stakes over a sloppy track. She got back on the winning track in the Natalma Stakes on the grass and was packed up with her talented stablemate Wilderness Song and sent to Belmont's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

"We all knew Dance Smartly was the best filly," Samuel told Canadian Thoroughbred magazine in 1991. "Wilderness Song couldn't train with her or do anything with her."

But the Juvenile Fillies turned out to be a debacle that local racing fans still talk about in which the stablemates dueled each other into defeat.

"It was a catastrophe," said Day. "The plan of the race was that Wilderness Song, who had Swatuk riding, would be on or near the lead and Dance Smartly, with Sandy Hawley, would run a strategic race off the pace and that would give both of them a chance."

Instead, the two fillies fought tooth-and-nail through a half-mile in a rapid :45.80 and were out of gas by the stretch run.

To her credit, Dance Smartly finished third to Meadow Star in a courageous effort.

Dance Smartly blossomed as a 3-year-old and sailed through wins in the Star Shoot, Selene, and Canadian Oaks, the latter race with American jockey Pat Day in tow, leading Samuel and Day to ponder the Queen's Plate as the filly's next target.

"Mr. Samuel was always very keen on the Plate," said Day. "She had gotten (to the Plate) looking pretty strong."

The stable sent out a three-horse entry that day, including Wilderness Song and champion colt Rainbows for Life, but Dance Smartly left her mates and six other rivals in her dust in an eight-length romp.

She rolled through wins in Fort Erie's Prince of Wales Stakes and then completed her sweep of the Bank of Montreal Triple Crown, which offered a $1-million bonus, with a handy Breeders' Stakes score at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.

"By then she was getting to be a special horse and the connection with 'brother' Pat was pretty strong," said Jim Day. "He would ride her extremely well, very patiently. He thought of her as a high-quality filly and that confidence boosted my confidence."