Crossing the Channel

With two major stakes winners in the space of 10 days, champion turf horse English Channel (TrueNicks,SRO) has zoomed up the second season sire charts. First Strait of Dover took the near $1,000,000 Queen's Plate, the first leg of the Canadian Triple crown, and then Blueskiesnrainbows, who had already been third in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), led throughout to take the Swaps Stakes (gr. II).

With five stakes winners—all of whom captured their black-type wins in 2012—and six black-type-placed performers, English Channel is currently third behind Scat Daddy (TrueNicks,SRO) and Hard Spun (TrueNicks,SRO) on the second-crop sires list by earnings and is second by individual stakes winners.

One thing that is interesting about English Channel's two recent stars is that they very much reflect trends established by his sire, Smart Strike (TrueNicks,SRO). When Smart Strike, a grade I-winning son of Mr. Prospector who was free of Northern Dancer, retired to stud, there were a couple of branches of Northern Dancer that immediately suggested themselves as good candidates for him. A quick look at his pedigree showed that his dam, champion Canadian 3-year-old filly Classy 'n Smart, produced the superlative Dance Smartly (Horse of the Year and champion 2- and 3-year-old filly in Canada, and also champion 3-year-old filly in the U.S.) when bred to Danzig. A closer look also pointed towards testing Smart Strike with mares descending from Northern Dancer through Vice Regent and his son Deputy Minister. A half sister to Smart Strike is dam of Deputy Minister's champion Canadian 2-year-old filly Hello Seattle, and a mating between Deputy Minister and Smart Strike's second dam, No Class, produced grade I winner Always a Classic. Meanwhile, Vice Regent sired a brace of stakes winners out of No Class, including another champion Canadian 2-year-old colt, Regal Classic.

As it turns out, the cross of Smart Strike with Danzig line mares has produced 13 stakes winners from 95 starters (14%, as compared to 9% for Smart Strike with all other mares). Significantly, they include one of his sire's most talented offspring, Lookin At Lucky (TrueNicks,SRO), the first horse since Spectacular Bid to earn honors as champion in the U.S. at both 2 and 3 years. Other products of the Smart Strike/Danzig cross include Canadian Horse of the Year and champion sprinter and turf horse Soaring Free, and Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) victress Shadow Cast. The cross with mares from the Deputy Minister line has supplied Smart Strike with his most outstanding runner, the two-time Horse of the Year Curlin (TrueNicks,SRO), and millionaire Tenpins. Out of a mare by Vice Regent, Smart Strike sired Eye of the Sphinx, champion 3-year-old filly in Canada.

One of the things we discovered in creating and testing the TrueNicks program is that, although there are exceptions, stallions really do tend to follow the trends established by their sires. In fact, statistically there is no drop off in correlation between TrueNicks ratings and stakes success with succeeding generations. With that in mind, when Pedigree Consultants compiled recommendations for English Channel, Danzig and Deputy Minister were at the top of the list (actually first and third, with the Nijinsky II branch of Northern Dancer in second, the selection of Nijinsky II being inspired by the fact that Smart Strike's dam is also a half sister to Nijinsky II's son Sky Classic (TrueNicks,SRO), champion turf horse in the U.S. and champion 2-year-old, older horse, and turf horse in Canada).

Happily, theory has been born out in practice, as Strait of Dover (TrueNicks A++), who set a stakes record in the Queen's Plate, is out of a Danzig mare, and Blueskiesnrainbows (TrueNicks A+) is out of a Deputy Minister mare. We should also note that English Channel's graded stakes-placed daughter Ann of the Dance is one of two starters so far for the stallion out of Nijinsky II line mares, so that recommendation might not be too far out either.

Of course, English Channel is not absolutely dependent on this handful of Northern Dancer strains. His son, Skyring (TrueNicks B+), who led home an English Channel one-two in the James W. Murphy Stakes at Pimlico, is out of a mare by Seattle Slew. This is another strain that was highly recommended for English Channel, as his third dam is closely related to Boldnesian, the grandsire of Seattle Slew. In this particular instance, Skyring's second dam is by Topsider, a close relative to Nureyev, the grandsire of the dam of English Channel. We should also mention that English Channel's grade I-placed Optimizer is out of a mare by Seattle Slew's sire, A.P. Indy. Star Channel, an English Channel son who took the Dayton Andrews Dodge Sophmore Turf Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, is out of a mare by Cozzene (by Caro, who is also grandsire of Smart Strike's graded winner Twilight Meteor).

One English Channel who has broken the mold as far as following the sire line trends is Sundance Kit, who captured the A Cemal Kira, at Veliefendi Racecourse in Turkey. This is a Turkish group III event worth $178,500. Out of a mare by Miner's Mark, Sundance Kit is the first stakes winner by Smart Strike or one of his sons from a mare by Mr. Prospector or a son or grandson (not particularly surprising given that Smart Strike is by Mr. Prospector). With a second dam by The Minstrel, Sundance Kit is a product of a "parallel pattern" of a Mr. Prospector/Northern Dancer sire over a Mr. Prospector/Northern Dancer dam.

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