In thoroughbred Racing certain horses naturally stand out more prominently than others and leave a lasting memory that never fades with time. I had the pleasure to watch on many occasions perhaps the greatest Canadian filly to grace the sport. Dance Smartly had it all. Great looks, a powerful pedigree, wonderful connections, and an air of class that just demanded attention from anyone in her presence. She was quite simply the best female thoroughbred in Canadian history.
I say this without provocation. There have been many wonderful Canadian bred fillies such as Glorious Song, La Prevoyante, Fanfreluche, Flaming Page, Canadiana, Square Angel and more. Dance Smartly stands tall with her on track achievements and her record as a champion producing broodmare. Let us take a look back at this most remarkable “Queen of the Turf”.
Dance Smartly was bred in 1988 by Ernie Samuel at his Sam-Son farm in Milton Ontario. Samuel had been developing a power house stable in the sport for years and amassed a fine collection of broodmares for his breeding operation. One of his early yearling purchases was No Class, a daughter of Nodouble bred by Jack Hood in Stratford Ontario.
No Class became a stakes placed winner on the track, and later the foundation mare to the operation. Producer of eight foals, six of which won stakes races, and four of those became champions. Sky Classic, Regal Classic, Grey Classic and Classy ‘n Smart won Sovereign Awards during their racing careers, while Always A Classic and Classic Reign won multiple stakes races to add to the family fortunes. No Class herself won a Sovereign Award as a broodmare of the year.
Classy ‘n Smart, sired by Smarten, won the Canadian Oaks during her championship three year old season. Following in her mother’s hoof steps Classy ‘n Smart became a heralded broodmare in her own right. Her first foal was the Secretariat colt Secret ‘n Classy, winner of three stakes races. Classy ‘n Smart also produced stakes winners Full Of Wonder, Strike Smartly and Smart Strike. The latter was a grade one winner and became a two time leading sire in North America with the likes of Curlin, Soaring Free, English Channel, Lookin At Lucky and My Miss Aurelia among his top get. Smart Strike has been very important to the thoroughbred world.
Dance Smartly was the second foal produced by Classy ‘n Smart. Samuel always made it his policy to breed his mares to the best sires he could acquire a breeding right to. This policy is unchanged to this day by his heirs who are now operating the farm. The sire of Dance Smartly is none other than Danzig, one of the elite sires in modern thoroughbred breeding. Danzig sired two hundred and two stakes winners in his illustrious career, and has established prominent branches of the Northern Dancer sire line throughout the world. Dance Smartly was his leading money earner and most accomplished daughter.
With a pedigree as glittering as hers, it is no wonder Dance Smartly would become the legend she became. From the time she was foaled Dance Smartly had what horsemen call “The Look Of Eagles”. Samuel nick named her Daisy, and the name stayed her entire life. There was definitely something about her. Her bay coat was dappled and devoid of white except for a perfectly placed star on her forehead. Daisy had a wonderful conformation with strong hips, prominent withers and a princess attitude. Daisy was not difficult, just very confident.
This confidence and her solid athletic ability would transform her into an elite superstar on the racing stage. Furthermore, she had the benefit of excellent connections to guide her through her racing career.
The Sam-Son Stable trainer back then was the great horseman Jim Day. Prior to Day becoming a thoroughbred trainer, he was an accomplished show jumping rider. Among the many awards on his mantle is a gold medal from the 1968 Olympics as a key member of the winning Canadian equestrian team. Ernie Samuel was a big supporter of the sport and knew Jim Day well when he approached him to train his racing stable. Samuel knew a good horseman when he saw one.
With everything in place, Dance Smartly made her first appearance to the public on July 7, 1990. Piloted by Irwin Driedger, Daisy won the five furlong maiden race by a comfortable three and a half lengths. Three weeks later she made it two in a row with a four and three quarter lengths win in an allowance race of the same distance. Sandy Hawley was her jockey on this occasion and was in the irons for her first stakes race.
Moving to Fort Erie, Dance Smartly was upset as the heavy favourite in the grade two Ontario Debutante Stakes. Regal Pennant ran the race of her life over the sloppy track for her only stakes win, to beat Dance Smartly on the day. Returning to Woodbine, Hawley guided Dance Smartly to a half length victory in the grade two Natalma Stakes. This was her first race on a grass course and Daisy handled the yielding surface beautifully.
On to Belmont Park, and a date with the top juvenile fillies on the continent in the Breeder’s Cup. The race however was bittersweet. Dance Smartly and her stable mate Wilderness Song became embroiled in a speed duel on the lead, cutting a 45 4/5 opening half mile. Daisy could not keep that pace going and was passed by eventual Eclipse Award champion Meadow Star. Dance Smartly gutted out an exhausting third place finish. She did however show her class and determination in finishing as she did.
Dance Smartly was named as the Sovereign Award champion two year old filly. The talent was evident, but Day needed to unlock the potential she had shown in her juvenile campaign. He would do so masterfully. Daisy was poised to become the Canadian queen of racing.
Samuel and Day had hoped to train their new star to the Kentucky Oaks. Dance Smartly wintered in Florida and was sent to Kentucky early in the spring. The filly suffered a minor setback and was taking out of training while she convalesced. The loss in valuable training then forced the stable to abandon the Kentucky program and point her toward the Canadian Oaks.
May 4, 1991, Woodbine Racetrack. This was the date and site to the beginning of a season unlike no other by a Canadian thoroughbred filly. The race was the six furlong Star Shoot Stakes. Dance Smartly went off at 3-5 and won by a comfortable two and a half lengths. Four weeks later Jim Day sent her out for the important eight and a half furlong Selene Stakes. Daisy cruised home three and a quarter lengths in front of her nearest competitor, at 1-2 odds on.
Next up for our heroine was the Canadian Oaks. Bet down to 1-20, Dance Smartly dominated her rival fillies to win by four and a half lengths. Finishing second in the race was her talented stable mate Wilderness Song. Wilderness Song later in the year won the grade one Spinster Stakes. However she had to race in the huge shadow of Dance Smartly.
The Sam-Son team decided to enter both of their star fillies in the Queen’s Plate. What transpired in the race has never been duplicated since. Dance Smartly won by eight lengths over Wilderness Song, thus becoming the first stable mate fillies to go one-two against the boys in the Canadian classic. Dance Smartly was so dominating in the race that talk of her becoming the first filly to win the Triple Crown could be heard all around Woodbine that day. Two weeks later at Fort Erie, she captured the second jewel with a solid victory in the Prince of Wales Stakes. It was looking as if she had no peers, from either sex, and the crown would be hers for the taking.
The Woodbine faithful came in droves to see Daisy become the first filly to win the Triple Crown on Breeder’s Stakes day. The course was a yielding surface after heavy rain the previous day. Dance Smartly pulverised the field in the twelve furlong race, winning by an increasing eight lengths. Track announcer Dan Loiselle proclaimed her “The Queen of Canadian Racing” as she powered through the stretch. He added that she was majestic in victory. She most definitely was. We witnessed complete superiority that day. Little did we know, Daisy had more to show us.
In 1988 Woodbine had inaugurated a very lucrative race called the Molson Export Challenge. The race was sponsored by the beer company of the same name and attracted many of the best three year olds in training around the continent. The increase to a one million dollar purse certainly helped in that respect, and the name was changed to the Molson Export Million. This race has evolved into the very prestigious Woodbine Mile, a world class grass race coveted by many elite stables around the world. However in 1991, the race was still in its infancy and was run at nine furlongs on dirt and rated a grade two.
Dance Smartly took on a fine field that included Fly So Free, who had previously won three grade one races. Also in the ten horse field were multi stakes winners Megas Vukefalos, General Meeting, Excellent Tipper and Shudanz. The latter had finished behind Dance Smartly in all three Triple Crown races. Dance Smartly drew post position ten. She broke alertly from the outside position to assume a stalking position behind pace setter Shudanz. Coming down the home stretch, Dance Smartly wore down a game Shudanz to take command at the sixteenth pole and won the race by two lengths. Shudanz was six lengths in front of third placed outsider Majesterian.
Seven for seven on the year, Dance Smartly had one more level to climb in order to prove her superiority. A date with the top fillies and mares in training was required. This would come in the Breeder’s Cup Distaff on November 2, at Churchill Downs. Never had a Canadian bred won a Breeder’s Cup race in the brief seven year history of the now classic racing extravaganza. Could Canada’s Racing Queen be the first?
Dance Smartly drew the attention of one of the finest jockeys in racing. Pat Day became her regular rider beginning with the Canadian Oaks. He was always amazed at how good Dance Smartly was, but had never really pushed her. The Day and Day combination of trainer Jim and jockey Pat formed a very cohesive tandem in Daisy’s support team. Dance Smartly was winning by doing enough on class, without extending herself. The Breeder’s Cup Distaff would show us once and for all what Dance Smartly was made of.
The field for the Distaff drew twelve worthy adversaries. Multi grade one winner Queena , who in the same year won the Eclipse Award as the top older mare was in. Fellow Danzig daughter Versailles Treaty, winner of three grade ones was in. Further entrants included multi stakes winners Fit For A Queen, Lady D’Accord, Brought To Mind, Train Robbery and Daisy’s own stable mate Wilderness Song. The trainer for Train Robbery disparagingly dismissed Dance Smartly prior to the race when he said she beat nothing coming into the event. The huge crowd at Churchill Downs disagreed and made Dance Smartly the overwhelming 1-2 favourite.
At the off, Dance Smartly broke well from post ten and settled into her usual stalking position as the field went around the first turn. Day had her relaxed and flowing smoothly as they sat six lengths off the pace down the back stretch. Around the far turn, Pat Day said lets go and Dance Smartly responded. With her patented sweep move around the pack, she powered her way down the past the twin spires grandstand to win comfortably one and a half lengths over Versailles Treaty. As Dance Smartly crossed the finish line, announcer Tom Durkin called her the undisputed Queen of racing on the continent.
Undisputed indeed. Dance Smartly was officially crowned as best filly in racing. The year end awards included the Eclipse as champion three year old filly, and two Sovereign Awards as champion three year filly and horse of the year in Canada. To Canadian fans she was a living legend. Ernie Samuel and his family were proud of her accomplishments. Daisy may have been family to the Samuels, but she was also Canada’s horse. The patriarch of the Samuel clan could not have been happier with the adulation his champion received.
Dance Smartly was let down for the winter in preparation for a four year old campaign. Unknown to her enthusiastic fans, Dance Smartly battled a lingering suspensor ligament injury in her right foreleg. She made four starts in the year, all on grass. Her first race was in the nine furlongs King Edward Gold Cup at Woodbine. Thunder Regent nosed her out of the winner’s circle in a good time of 1:46 flat. Dance Smartly then came back for the ten furlong Canadian Maturity. She took the event by a half length, but did not display her usual dominance on the soft course.
Returning to race in the U.S. Dance Smartly finished her racing with a pair of thirds at Arlington Park. The grade three Budweiser BC Handicap and the grade one Beverly D Stakes closed out an illustrious career on the track. In both races Daisy competed well enough, she was only beaten by a combined three lengths, but she could not overcome her leg woes. Ernie Samuel said enough is enough and retired “Canada’s Queen of Racing” for good.
With a stellar racing career and faultless bloodlines, Dance Smartly was poised to become an outstanding broodmare. Again Canada’s Queen did not disappoint. Her resume demanded the best stallions and Ernie Samuel made certain Daisy was courted by the best. The likes of Mr. Prospector and his sons Gone West and Seeking The Gold, A.P. Indy, and Mr. P’s grandson Thunder Gulch all sired foals produced by Dance Smartly.
The first was Dance Brightly, a colt by Mr. Prospector who won once and finished second in the Coronation Futurity in two starts. He was retire in March of his three year old season when he fractured his leg while training for the Louisiana Derby. Dance Brightly has sired stakes winners in the North America, Argentina and Chile.
Daisy’s next foal was also a colt, this time by Seeking The Gold. Named Seek Smartly, he won two of twelve races. He later was sold for stud duty at Haras Urama in Venezuela.
Third foal from Dance Smartly was another son of Mr. Prospector. Given the name Scatter The Gold, the son of a Queen’s Plate winner became a Queen’s Plate winner himself, capturing the new millennium edition in 2000. He then followed up with a win in the Prince Of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie. Unfortunately Scatter The Gold could not complete the Triple Crown, finishing third to Lodge Hill. Later in the year, Scatter The Gold went to stud at Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan.
The fourth foal Daisy produced became her best. A full sister to Scatter The Gold and Dance Brightly, Dancethruthedawn emulated her mother in winning the Canadian Oaks and the Queen’s Plate. She also copied mom by winning the Sovereign Award as the best three year old filly in Canada. Dancethruthedawn had won the prestigious Princess Elizabeth stakes as a juvenile.
At four, trainer Mark Frostad took her on a U.S. campaign where Dancethruthedawn won the grade one Go For Wand Stakes at Saratoga. She also took the Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland and placed in several top class stakes at Pimlico, Churchill Downs and Saratoga. She is now a member of the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame.
Returning to Dance Smartly, her next foal was also sired by Mr. Prospector. Dance To Destiny was a winner of three races from eleven starts and placed third in the Dominion Day Handicap. He stood at Sam-Son farm after racing, but was later sold to Almusaadiyah Stud in Saudi Arabia. He was the final foal from the Mr.P – Daisy alliance.
Dance Smartly produced in 2002 a son by A.P. Indy named Dance With Ravens. As a two year old, Dance With Ravens captured the grade two Grey Stakes and was second in the grade two Summer Stakes. On the Queen’s Plate trail, he won the Plate trial but was disqualified for interference. In the big race he failed to fire and was retired. He stood stud at Northview Stallion Station, the site of the former Windfields Maryland farm, and was transferred to Saudi Arabia in 2015.
There would be three more foals from Dance Smartly. All three were unraced. Dancethruthestorm by Thunder Gulch produced Princess Elizabeth Stakes winner Grand Style. A colt by Gone West named Danceinthesunshine, and a full sister named Dance To The Sea round out the progeny of Dance Smartly. Dance To The Sea is the dam of stakes placed Sea To Sea, a winner of one race from two starts.
Dance Smartly had difficulty coming into foal in her later years. She had also developed a stifle injury which plagued her more and more as she aged. Daisy would walk with a slight limp at times when the injury flared. Early in her broodmare career, she had collided with another mare in the paddock, which caused the lingering ailment. Due to this condition, she seldom was seen lying down as it was difficult for her to get up.
In mid August of 2007, farm employees found her lying down in her paddock. Farm manager Dave Whitford stated “When we got her up it was obvious she had broken something in the stifle area. We are not sure how it happened.” The injury was irreparable. The great Dance Smartly, Canada’s Queen of Racing, was humanely euthanized to end her suffering. She was nineteen years old.
Tammy Samuel-Balaz, who had become farm president following her father’s passing in 2000 said “Dance Smartly was a once in a lifetime horse. She was magic and gave us incredible thrills as both a race horse and broodmare. While we were fortunate enough to have bred and owned her, she truly was Canada’s horse.”
Dance Smartly was Canada’s horse, our equine queen. When she retired, Dance Smartly was the all time leading money earning female in the thoroughbred world. She is a member of both the the Canadian and U.S. Racing Halls of Fame. The only filly to win the Triple Crown. The first Canadian bred to win a Breeder’s Cup. She came from equine royalty and became its greatest asset.
The immediate family of Dance Smartly contains six members of the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame. Family matriarch No Class, her son Sky Classic and daughter Classy ‘n Smart began the tradition. From the latter her daughter Dance Smartly and son Smart Strike, and Dance Smartly’s daughter Dancethruthedawn have joined their ancestors.
Daisy could be aloof, but did have her moments of fun with her trusted handlers. She enjoyed her treats. She had an aura about her, and a presence that demanded one to watch her. Daisy was never mean and was truly loved by all who knew her. She had the look of eagles, and she knew it. She was pure class.
Dance Smartly was known to her closest friends as Daisy, and to the rest of the world as Canada’s Queen of Racing.
(Photo courtesy of Sam-son Farm)