In June 1990, renowned jockey Brian Swatuk returned from a routine workout aboard an unraced filly, flabbergasted. Swatuk pulled his mount up, made his way to her trainer – James “Jim” Day – and boldly proclaimed, “This might be the best horse I’ve ever sat on in my entire life.”
That filly’s name was Dance Smartly. The daughter of the champion Classy n’ Smart and the outstanding sire Danzig, she didn’t initially exhibit her prodigious talent. Gentle and occasionally “aloof,” Dance Smartly quickly earned the nickname “Daisy” from the shape of the star of her forehead.
Fortunately, Swatuk’s testimony had convinced Jim Day that she was very special. A former show jumper himself, Day had ridden a horse called Canadian Club – owned and bred by Sam-Son Farms – to win Canada’s first equestrian gold medal in the 1968 Olympic Games. After retiring from the circuit in 1976, Day became the private trainer for Sam-Son Farms’ thoroughbred operation. He achieved remarkable success, campaigning a list of stars that included champions Regal Classic and Ruling Angel.
One month after her scintillating workout, Dance Smartly strode onto the racetrack for a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race, where she delivered a brilliant performance and won by 3 1/2 lengths. Three weeks later, Day sent Daisy out again, aiming her at a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race. Dance Smartly won in an impressive 1:05.
Just 12 days later, Daisy was shipped to Fort Erie Racetrack to compete in the Ontario Debutante Stakes. The filly tried courageously, but finished second. Undeterred, Jim Day and Sam-Son Farms gave her a brief rest before sending Daisy to Woodbine for the Natalma Stakes, where she earned the first stakes victory of her career.
Dance Smartly’s handlers then took an ambitious step: she was nominated for the $1,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. To date, no Canadian-bred horse had ever won a Breeders’ Cup race.
Along with her stablemate Wilderness Song, Daisy set out to break the Breeders’ Cup drought. At the sound of the bell, the two fillies bolted into the lead. They blazed through the first quarters of the race, locked in a ferocious speed duel. Their early speed, however, proved to be their downfall. As the field hit the final turn, Wilderness Song and Dance Smartly began to fade. Daisy finished a gallant third, six lengths behind the future champion Meadow Star – whose winnings were later donated to homeless children.
Jim Day and the Samuel family, owners of Sam-Son Farms, soon got over their disappointment. Following her Breeders’ Cup effort, Dance Smartly earned her first Sovereign Award as the Two-Year-Old Filly of the Year.
After Dance Smartly’s 1990 campaign, Jim Day had hoped to start her at Keeneland and aim her at New York’s filly Triple Crown. Unfortunately, Daisy fell ill and was unable to compete until May. On May 4th, 1990, Dance Smartly made her three-year-old debut in Woodbine’s Star Shoot Stakes. Carrying the highest weight – 120 pounds – Daisy won handily by 2 1/2 lengths.
It was a good omen; Star Shoot had sired Sir Barton, the first horse in history to sweep the American Triple Crown. After capturing the Selene Stakes, Dance Smartly was nominated for the Canadian Oaks, the season’s most prestigious race for three-year-old fillies. Jim Day made an important choice by selecting hall-of-famer Pat Day (trainer and jockey are unrelated) to ride Dance Smartly in the $200,000 race.
One of the greatest jockeys of all time, Pat Day had gotten his athletic start in high school, where he became a state wrestling champion. He and Daisy worked together perfectly. With a masterful ride from Day, Daisy defeated Wilderness Song by an astonishing 4 1/2 lengths; Wilderness Song, the official race card noted, was “no match for [the] winner.”
Following Dance Smartly’s stunning Canadian Oaks win, Jim Day decided that the filly deserved a chance at the Queen’s Plate, where she would face colts for the first time. Starting off as an overwhelming favourite, Daisy dropped to the middle of the pack as Wilderness Song whirled into the lead. After trailing her stablemate for more than a mile, Dance Smartly accelerated dramatically, swept past Wilderness Song, and crossed under the wire eight lengths in front.
Her owner, Ernie Samuel, was ecstatic. “Everyone was hung up on the boys before the race,” he said, “but I knew the girl was going to beat them.”
Three weeks later, Daisy continued onwards to the second leg of the Triple Crown: the Prince of Wales Stakes. Despite being boxed in along the backstretch, she delivered a smashing 2 1/2-length win.
There was now only one race left between her and the Triple Crown title. At 1 1/2 miles long, the Breeders’ Stakes would be the longest event that Daisy had ever run in. Evidently, the length didn’t matter much. With her stablemate Speak No Evil acting as a “rabbit,” Dance Smartly settled into third and waited for the leaders to fade. At the far turn, the filly pounced. She overwhelmed the front runner, Shanduz, and moved into the lead. She crossed the line eight lengths in front, earning the Triple Crown victory and a $1,000,000 bonus from the Bank of Montreal. She was the first filly since 1932 to sweep the series.
After her triumph in the Triple Crown, Dance Smartly continued on her undefeated campaign. Less than a month after the Breeders’ Stakes, Daisy took on some of North America’s top horses in the Molson Export Million Stakes. The filly got caught in a homestretch battle with Shanduz before pulling away in the final yards to win by two lengths. “I don’t know how to discuss being around a filly like this,” Jim Day declared. “She’s such an exciting mare to be a part of.” He had seen enough; Dance Smartly would compete in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
When the day finally arrived, Daisy burst out of the gate and moved into sixth. Early on, her trainer was probably worried that her demanding season had tired her out: “At the three-eighths pole, I wondered how much horse we had left,” Jim Day recalled. With a quarter of a mile to go, the filly made her move. She exploded down the center of the field, took the lead, and held off the formidable Versailles Treaty to win her eighth consecutive race.
It was a monumental achievement. With her Distaff earnings, Dance Smartly surpassed the champion Lady’s Secret to become the richest female racehorse in the world. Her incomparable season earned her two Sovereign Awards, one Eclipse Award, and a unique place in racing history.
“She came through,” Ernie Samuel told a reporter, overjoyed by his first win in the Breeders’ Cup. “It’s just magic.”