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In the United States, it took 37 years for American Pharoah to follow up Affirmed’s 1978 Triple Crown sweep.
In Canada, the sport’s iconic achievement has taken place on a far more regular basis. Since 1983, five horses have swept Canada’s Triple Crown of the Queen’s Plate, Prince of Wales and Breeders’ Stakes, and one of them was an amazing filly.
Dance Smartly was the type of horse that was gifted enough to be a champion in any country or continent. A winner of 12 of 17 career starts, in her Triple Crown sweep against Canadian-breds, she won not only on dirt, but turf as well.
She was a Grade 1 winner in both the United States and Canada and her undefeated 3-year-old campaign in 1991, which featured her Triple Crown sweep, ranks the Sam-Son Farm champion among the top fillies of her generation.
“Dance Smartly was a once in a lifetime horse. She was magic and gave us incredible thrills as both a racehorse and broodmare,” Tammy Samuel-Balaz, daughter of Dance Smartly’s owner Ernie Samuel, told BloodHorse magazine in 2007. “While we were fortunate enough to have bred and owned her, she was truly Canada’s horse.”
Dance Smartly was a daughter of Danzig out of the Smarten mare Classy ‘n Smart, who would later enter Canada’s Hall of Fame, bred by Sam-Son and trained by Jim Day. She was born with a star-like marking on her head, which was quite prophetic.
Her racing career started on July 7, 1990, at Woodbine, and her talent was anything but a mystery to handicappers. Sam-Son’s homebred filly was bet down to a 1-2 favorite and promptly posted an impressive 3 ½-length victory.
An allowance win followed - again as a 1-2 favorite - but in her stakes debut, Dance Smartly was upset in the Ontario Debutante and finished second as an odds-on choice.
A victory on turf in the Natalma Stakes convinced Day to cross the border and chase a much larger prize. He entered Dance Smartly in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Belmont Park, where she finished second to Meadow Star, the year’s Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old filly.
In 1991, Dance Smartly quickly proved herself to be Canada’s best 3-year-old filly as she reeled off a trio of wins against fellow females, capped by an easy 4 ½-length score in the Canadian Oaks.
After that, Day and Samuel took aim at the Triple Crown and Dance Smartly responded to the challenge in electrifying fashion. She not only won the mile and a quarter Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, she ran away and hid from her overmatched male rivals, winning by eight lengths.
A two-length triumph in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie followed and she completed the sweep by notching a lopsided eight-length win on turf in the Breeders’ Stakes to become Canada’s third straight Triple Crown winner, joining Izvestia in 1990 and With Approval in 1989.
“She was so versatile,” Day told Daily Racing Form in 2007. “Nowadays, a lot of good horses have their little niches. She ran well at every distance and on every surface you can imagine.”
The Triple Crown winner remained in Canada and once again beat males in the Grade 2 Molson Export Million, winning by two lengths in a track record time for the mile and an eighth at Woodbine.
That left one last mountain for Dance Smartly to climb.
Day brought Dance Smartly to Churchill Downs for a showdown with America’s top fillies and mares in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Facing 12 rivals, the pride of Canada topped an odds-on 1-2 favored entry and recorded a length and a half victory over Versailles Treaty to become the first Canadian-bred to capture a Breeders’ Cup race. Her earnings in the Breeders’ Cup also made Dance Smartly the sport’s all-time leading earner among fillies and mares.
Her eighth victory in eight 1991 starts not only earned Dance Smartly acclaim as the year’s Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old filly but sealed her status as Canada’s Horse of the Year.
At 4, ankle woes plagued her and she failed to regain form, winning just once in four starts. Dance Smartly was retired after finishing third in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes on turf at Arlington Park.
Yet even that subpar 4-year-old season could not cloud the brilliance of her unforgettable campaign a year earlier. In 1995, she entered Canada’s Racing Hall of Fame and in 2003 and was she was voted into the United States’ National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
“She was certainly as good a horse as any person ever trained,” Day told Daily Racing Form.
Being a female and a Triple Crown winner, there’s surely no doubt about that.
Fun Facts About Dance Smartly
- Dance Smartly was an equally successful broodmare. Among her foals were back-to-back Queen’s Plate winners Scatter The Gold and Dancethruthedawn.
- Among the colts Dance Smartly beat in the Molson Export Million was Fly So Free, the champion 2-year-old male of 1990.
- Dance Smartly earned $3,263,836 in her career.
- When Dance Smartly was named the champion 3-year-old filly of 1991, she won the award over Meadow Star and Lite Light, who clashed in the famed edition of the Mother Goose Stakes that was known as “The Mother of All Gooses.”