John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I)

(gr. IT , 12f ,)

ENGLISH CHANNEL (CH h, 126 lb) $1,620,000
Smart Strike —Belva , by Theatrical (IRE)
B—Keene Ridge Farm, KY.; O—James T. Scatuorchio; T—Todd A. Pletcher

Shamdinan (FR) (CH h, 121 lb) $600,000
Dr Fong —Shamdara (IRE) , by Dr Devious (IRE)
B—S. A. Aga Khan, FR.; O—Triple B Farms (Boghossian); T—Angel J. Penna, Jr.

Red Rocks (IRE) (DK B/ h, 126 lb) $300,000
Galileo (IRE) —Pharmacist (IRE) , by Machiavellian
B—Ballylinch Stud, IRE.; O—J. Paul Reddam; T—Brian Meehan

Margins: 7, ¾, ¾. Others: Better Talk Now 126($153,000) , Dylan Thomas (IRE) 126($75,000) , Grand Couturier (GB) 126 , Fri Guy 126 , Transduction Gold 126 . Winning Jockey, John R. Velazquez.

Ann McBrayer’s Keene Ridge Farm has just 13 mares in its broodmare band. But quality is more important that quanity, and McBrayer demonstrated an eye for quality when she purchased the unraced mare Belva privately after the mare was bought back by the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust for $100,000 at the 2001 Keeneland November mixed sale. One of the mare’s attractions was her status as in foal to Lane’s End stallion Smart Strike, a sire that McBrayer has long had a liking for. McBrayer’s instincts were dead-on, for the foal Belva was carrying turned out to be English Channel, the winner of the 2007 John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT).

Belva reverses the usual American pattern of matching a speedy sire to a stamina-oriented mare. Her sire, 1987 U.S. champion turf male Theatrical, was a first-class runner from 10-12 furlongs for Allen Paulson. To date, his daughters have produced 34 stakes winners from 1,112 foals of racing age, including 2006 Canadian champion 3-year-old male Shillelagh Slew, 2006 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Lucien Barriere (Fr-I) winner and French champion Rail Link, 2002 Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) winner Dublino, and 2000 Puerto Rican champion imported juvenile Mi Amigo Guelo.

Committed, Belva’s dam, is another kettle of fish entirely. A multiple champion in Europe in 1984-85, Committed liked her races about half as long as Theatrical’s but could fly within her limits, winning three group I sprints during her career. As a broodmare, she did well, her three stakes winners including 1996 Santa Ana Handicap (gr. IT) winner Pharma (a full sister to Belva) and multiple grade IIT winner Hap (also by Theatrical), now at stud at Darby Dan Farm.

Committed came by speed honestly, for she is by the Olden Times horse Hagley, winner of the 1970 Withers Stakes and a good sire of sprinters. Her female family is a little more stamina-oriented. Her dam, the Boldnesian mare Minstinguette, is a half-sister to 1976 Vanity Handicap (gr. I) winner Miss Toshiba (by Sir Ivor). The family descends from Humanity, a 1916 daughter of Voter who was imported to the United States by her breeder, John Sanford, and includes upset 1944 Belmont Stakes winner Bounding Home, 1955 U.S. co-champion juvenile filly Nasrina, and two-time U.S. champion Riva Ridge.

English Channel is an excellent example of Smart Strike’s affinity for Northern Dancer. Twenty of Smart Strike’s 26 graded/group stakes winners are from Northern Dancer-line mares, and four of the remaining six have a Northern Dancer son or grandson as the second damsire. Mares returning Danzig (the sire of Smart Strike’s champion half-sister, Dance Smartly) or Vice Regent have done particularly well, accounting for such runners as Breeders’ Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) winner and probable Horse of the Year Curlin, 2004 Canadian Horse of the Year Soaring Free, and 2004 Canadian champion 3-year-old filly Eye of the Sphynx. Nureyev, the sire of Theatrical, has also done well with Smart Strike from limited opportunities, his daughters producing multiple Puerto Rican champion Dr Arbatach and stakes winner Strike Rate to Smart Strike’s cover.

English Channel, whose retirement was announced Oct. 28 by owner James Scatuorchio, will be the first grade I winner by Smart Strike to go to stud. His early career will have much to say regarding Smart Strike’s future as a sire of sires, but there is little question about Smart Strike’s present. He is quite simply one of the best stallions in Kentucky and one that is finally getting the respect he deserves.

One of Mr. Prospector’s best sons at stud, Smart Strike is represented by 16 stakes winners in 2007, eight of them graded or group winners, and seems a certainty to finish out 2007 as the leading sire in North America. The sire of 51 stakes winners has top runners on all surfaces and at all distances, and while his offspring are often a little on the plain side by the standards of the commercial market, they do run—fast. He will stand for $150,000 in 2008, double his 2007 fee and five times the $30,000 he stood for in 2001, when English Channel was conceived.

English Channel appears likely to be the first champion bred by Keene Ridge, but don’t count on his being the last. His 3-year-old full brother, Sedgefield, is graded-placed on both turf and Polytrack for Silverton Hill, which purchased the colt for $300,000 at the 2006 Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training. A 2-year-old half-sister by Street Cry, now named Lura, was purchased for $725,000 by Sheikh Mohammed at the 2006 Keeneland September sale, and a yearling half-sister by Aldebaran went to Ecurie Des Monceaux for $350,000 at the recent Keeneland September sale.

Belva, who was bought back from the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale for $2 million while in foal to Ghostzapper, was not bred back after producing a filly this spring. According to Keene Ridge Farm manager Charles McKinley, a return date with Smart Strike was being strongly considered for Belva even before English Channel’s Breeders’ Cup win. That seems almost a certainty now. By Avalyn Hunter