Accelerate (by Lookin at Lucky) won the Gold Cup Handicap on May 26 to pair with his Santa Anita Handicap, both Grade 1, and those victories make him look like the best older horse on the West Coast at 10 furlongs, at least unless West Coast (Flatter) comes out of hibernation and asserts some of his best form.
On the East Coast, Money Multiplier (Lookin at Lucky) won the G2 Monmouth Stakes, racing nine furlongs on turf to raise his total earnings to $1.2 million.
The two winners above, along with Dr. Dorr (second in the Gold Cup), have marked this as a powerful weekend for Ashford Stud stallion Lookin at Lucky, a son of multiple leading sire Smart Strike and a winner of the Eclipse Award as top of his division at 2 and 3, when he also won the G1 Preakness Stakes.
Despite being such a good juvenile himself, Lookin at Lucky tends to get stock that improve with age and distance, and frequently they show some added class on turf.
The gods of racing (and breeding) do not reveal how the transmission of athleticism and racing vigor works it way from generation to generation. Breeders try to read the runes of inscrutable pedigrees, and the secret sits in the darkness outside the pale light from our torches. And laughs.
That has been the status quo of our knowledge of inheritance and genetics for a century. Oh, yes. We have made advances in understanding what genes and chromosomes are and tinkering out some of the mysteries of how they work, and we have decoded genomes of this critter and the other. Sort of.
We still know more about shadows than substance.
Take, for instance, the situation one sees with the sons of the Mr. Prospector stallion Smart Strike. A winner in six of eight starts, Smart Strike wouldn’t have been a stallion prospect of any significance, except for the two races he won in July and August 1996. In July at Monmouth Park, the sleek bay won the Grade 3 Salvator Mile by 2 1/4 lengths for owner-breeder Sam-Son Farms and trainer Mark Frostad.
Smart Strike had won four races in sequence previously in maiden and allowance company, and he had been impressive enough that even with a jump into a graded stakes, the colt started as the odds-on choice, and he performed like it. In his next start, the G1 Phillip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth a month later, Smart Strike was the third choice against a notably saltier field that included champion and race favorite Serena’s Song (by Rahy), major winner Eltish (Cox’s Ridge), Petionville (Seeking the Gold), and Our Emblem (Mr. Prospector), later the sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem.
On the day, Smart Strike won by 2 ¼ lengths from Eltish, Serena’s Song, and Petionville in 1:41.59 for 1 1/16th miles. That was strong form, and when the bay son of Mr. Prospector raced for the G1 Woodward Stakes in three weeks, he was second favorite to Horse of the Year Cigar. The latter won the race, and Smart Strike, after battling on or near the lead for a mile, then “weakened” in the final furlong to be fourth.
That was Smart Strike’s eighth and final start, and he went to stud at Lane’s End as yet another talented son of Mr. Prospector, and there was no shortage of those standing around Kentucky, or even at Lane’s End, which also stood the Mr. Prospector horse Kingmambo.
All in all, Smart Strike wasn’t the best-looking, not the biggest, nor the fastest, and not even the fanciest pedigreed son of his famous sire. But over time, Smart Strike has proven marvelously successful at siring high-class horses and at propelling his genetic values into the succeeding generations through his sons and daughters.
At stud today, there is no question that the leading son of Smart Strike is Horse of the Year Curlin, currently 6th on the general sire list in North America and perennially a sire with stock who contend for the premium races around the country. Getting one really good son is more than most stallions manage, and having two (Curlin and Lookin At Lucky) in the top 20 is a significant accomplishment. Having a third in the top 30 sires (champion English Channel) seems to be establishing a trend, and then Smart Strike’s son Square Eddie – a high-class winner of the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at 2 – is just about the most successful stallion standing in California.
Smart Strike’s continuation through such a diverse but high-quality group of sons, plus some good producing daughters, indicates that his genetic contribution is a positive one, and yet we find ourselves nearly as much in the dark about why and how this transmission of excellence works as breeders did a century ago.