Sam-Son Farm: Canada’s Gold Standard

Sam-Son Farm's Up With the Birds wins the 2013 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

In the United States there were stables such as Calumet Farm that dominated horse racing for decades.

In Canada, the gold standard begins and ends with Sam-Son Farm.

Founded in 1972 by Ernie Samuel, Sam-Son has left an imprint on racing and breeding in Canada that has been second to none.

It all started when trainer Art Warner claimed Takaring at Fort Erie for Samuel, and more than four decades later, even after Samuel’s death in 2000, Sam-Son has accumulated a staggering amount of victories and honors and remained an industry leader.

Here’s just a sampling of them:

  • Nine Canadian Horse of the Year awards.
  • More than 70 Sovereign Awards, Canada’s version of the United States’ Eclipse Awards.
  • Ten Sovereign Awards for outstanding owner.
  • Nine Sovereign Awards for outstanding breeder.
  • Nine Sovereign Awards for outstanding broodmare.
  • A Horse of the Year award in the United States.
  • Four Eclipse Awards.

Among the horses who were the recipients of those awards are a virtual who’s-who of Canada’s brightest stars.

To understand Sam-Son’s dominance, it should be pointed out that it raced Canada’s Horse of the Year for three straight years in the 1980s – and that wasn’t even its best decade.

Back then, Sam-Son had consecutive Canadian Horse of the Year winners in Dauphin Fabuleaux (1984), Imperial Choice (1985) and Ruling Angel (1986).

Yet it was in the 1990s that Sam-Son raced its biggest stars.

It started in 1990, when Dance Smartly finished third behind Meadow Star in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and was named Canada’s champion 2-year-old filly.

The following year was highlighted by a memorable duel between Meadow Star and Lite Light in the 1991 Mother Goose Stakes – a race that was famously headlined as “Mother of All Gooses” – yet by the end of that year it was Dance Smartly who was the queen of that division.

Dance Smartly won all eight of her 1991 starts, capped by a length and a half victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff as an odds-on 1-2 favorite.

Aside from sweeping the Canadian Triple Crown of the Queen’s Plate, Prince of Wales and Breeders’ Stakes for trainer James Day, the homebred filly’s 1991 résumé also included a victory in the Molson Export Million Stakes.

Off of those sensational victories, she was named the champion 3-year-old filly in the United States and Canada’s Horse of the Year.

A winner of 12 of 17 starts with earnings of $3.2 million, she was voted into Canada’s Hall of Fame in 1995 and the United States' Hall of Fame in Saratoga in 2003.

"I don't think about her without believing she was one of those magical, lightning strike things," Tammy Samuel-Balaz, Ernie Samuel’s daughter, told Blood-Horse in a 2003 article.

Also in 1991, Sam-Son campaigned the Sovereign Award recipient for champion older male and turf runner in Sky Classic.

A winner of 15 of 29 starts with $3,320,398 in earnings, Sky Classic won the 1991 Rothmans International.

Then in 1992, Sky Classic won the Turf Classic at Belmont Park and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and Arlington Million to earn the Eclipse Award as the United States’ turf champion.

In 1996-98, Sam-Son campaigned one of the sport’s top turf stars in Chief Bearhart.

Named Canada’s champion turf horse in 1996, Chief Bearhart enjoyed his best season in 1997. Winner of the Grade 1 Canadian International Stakes, he finished no worse than second in seven starts for trainer Mark Frostad.

The best of the seven was surely the Breeders’ Cup Turf when Chief Bearhart notched a three-quarters of a length victory to wrap up an Eclipse Award as the champion grass horse and Sovereign Awards as Horse of the Year and champion grass horse and older horse.

A winner of 12 of 26 starts, including the 1998 Manhattan Handicap, with earnings of $3.3 million, he repeated as Canada’s Horse of the Year and grass champion in 1998.

After Samuel passed away, his daughter Tammy Samuel-Balaz took over as the head of the family’s racing operation and farm in Milton, Ontario, and continued Sam-Son’s legacy of success.

In 2004, Sam-Son won the Grade 1 Atto Mile with $2 million earner Soaring Free.

Sadly, Samuel-Balaz succumbed to cancer at the age of 47 in 2008.

Mark Samuel is now Sam-Son’s CEO with Rick Balaz serving as the President and General Manager, and while Sam-Son’s last Sovereign Award winner was Up With the Birds as Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old in 2013, the stable’s familiar gold and red silks can still be seen at tracks up and down North America.

Sam-Son has just five wins so far in 2017, after posting 24 victories a year ago, and while the wins may not be as numerous as in past years, each of them are a reminder of the great stars that made Sam-Son Farm such a fabulous international success story for more than 40 years.

Fun Facts About Sam-Son Farm

  • Sam-Son’s Smart Strike is the sire of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and turf champion English Channel.
  • Sam-Son received an Eclipse Award as the leading owner in 1991.
  • Dance Smartly was the first Canadian-bred to win a Breeders’ Cup race.
  • Both Ernie Samuel and his daughter, Tammy Samuel-Balaz, are enshrined in the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame.

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