Body & Soul: Three Strikes and You’re In

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Curlin | Sarah K. Andrew

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Have you ever come up with an idea that is based on a lot of anecdotal evidence and would seem to fit a theme you’ve already settled upon only to realize something comes up that immediately changes the expected result?

Happened to us a few days ago when we conjured up the thought that Mr. Prospector’s son Smart Strike was having a good year with three of his sons coming up with potential “really big” horses. They would be Curlin, sire of GI Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso; Lookin At Lucky, dominant sire in Chile with three Group 1 winners this year and the declared victor in the GI Kentucky Derby, Country House; and English Channel, whose Channel Maker won the GI Man o’ War S.

We thought since none of these stallions closely resembles their sire in appearance or biomechanical terms that it would be interesting to delve into possible reasons for his somewhat sudden prominence. We then visited the Leading Sires lists to determine how well each of them was doing this year in terms of overall earnings. Imagine our surprise when we discovered they were among the Top 20 active sires as of Thanksgiving. Now that’s some accomplishment.

But then we saw that Smart Strike is the only stallion with three sons in that Top 20, with only El Prado (Ire) (Medaglia d’Oro and Kitten’s Joy) and Danzig (Hard Spun and War Front) joining him with more than one on the list. Needless to say our eyes bugged out a bit more. This is news, we opined, and so we were off on a research trail that led to a few insights.

Not the least of these factors stares everyone right in the face: there isn’t a scintilla of Northern Dancer’s genes in Smart Strike. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise us that his leading sons inherited some of that genetic makeup from their dams. How they did so is quite remarkable: Curlin’s broodmare sire is Deputy Minister, Lookin At Lucky’s is Belong to Me, and English Channel is out of a mare by Theatrical (Ire). You will notice that each of those broodmare sires is a grandson of Northern Dancer, albeit from a different sub-line (Vice Regent, Danzig, and Nureyev, respectively). Talk about nicks!

Smart Strike himself was produced by the grand Canadian champion Classy ‘n Smart, a mare who also produced his half-sister, champion Dance Smartly. Classy ‘n Smart was by far the best offspring of her hard-knocking sire, Smarten, who was by Cyane, one of the more consistent sons of *Turn-to when it came to getting soundness. In our estimation, Smart Strike’s soundness and perhaps much of his eventual aptitude on the track and at stud was backed up by the sire of his second dam No Class–a chestnut gem named Nodouble whom we will get to shortly.

No Class herself was nothing to sneeze at since she also produced the likes of champions Sky Classic, Regal Classic, and Grey Classic. There’s no question that this entire family is not only one of the classiest, but also soundest, of any tribe ever produced, regardless of country of origin. And until he met with an unfortunate injury while training for the Breeders’ Cup Classic as a 4-year-old, Smart Strike was generally considered pretty sound during a career wherein he came along a little late at three in his native Canada before winning the GIII Salvator Mile and GI Philip H. Iselin H. at four at Monmouth.

By then he’d completely captured the attention of William S. Farish, who secured him for stud at Lane’s End Farm. Much to the surprise of many, no doubt, he began churning out black-type winners all over the place to the extent that he was the Leading Sire in North America in both 2007 and 2008. Indeed, 2007 was a banner year topped by a day when his sons won three consecutive Grade I races at Belmont Park: Fabulous Strike in the six-furlong Vosburgh; eventual Eclipse Male Turf Champion English Channel in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at 12 furlongs; and eventual Horse of the Year Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 10 furlongs.

That was a prime example of Smart Strike’s versatility even beyond his untimely passing in 2015. In fact, his son Battle of Midway (hint: out of a mare by Concerto, a grandson of Danzig) might have been another notch in his sire-of-sires belt had he not proven almost sterile when retired after winning the 2017 GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He came back to the races to win three more stakes before suffering a fatal training injury in early 2019.

Back to the trio at hand. Curlin and English Channel, as chestnuts, are quite unlike their bay sire in appearance or phenotype. Curlin has that Deputy Minister “substance” about him, and English Channel is quite the outlier, being lightly made and smallish like Nureyev. As for Lookin At Lucky, he’s got some of Belong to Me’s “look” about him, though not with as much mass.

On the other hand, we look at Curlin and English Channel as possibly expressing some of the genetic look of Nodouble–Curlin with more of a resemblance to that one and English Channel closer in appearance, to our eye, to that one’s sire Noholme II, the Australian speedball from the Hyperion line who set many a hardboot back on their heels during the 1970s. We are reminded more of this potential connection by the fact that Vino Rosso, Country House, and Channel Maker are all chestnuts, and to this eye with a lot of Smart Strike mixed with Nodouble in their countenances.

That three such completely different biomechanical specimens could provide sudden impetus to their sire’s somewhat unappreciated legacy may raise some eyebrows. In fact, while some might have recently given Lookin At Lucky a second look despite their skepticism over his stunning record in Chile, everyone should be reminded that a beast named Scat Daddy also took that route before becoming quite the thing in Kentucky.

It appears that Smart Strike has changed the game a bit, turning three somewhat differently crafted strikes into solid hits on his way to rounding the bases.

(Bob Fierro is a partner with Jay Kilgore and Frank Mitchell in DataTrack International, biomechanical consultants and developers of BreezeFigs. He can be reached at [email protected]).

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