In a typical year, 1,600 Pennsylvania-breds compete on the racetrack for average earnings of $27,600. Of the 50,000+ who have raced across the globe since 1985, only an elite group of 31 horses have broken the seven figure mark in earnings. Over the course of summer 2020, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association will be chronicling a ten-part series featuring the select group of Pennsylvania-breds who reached the unique and rare accomplishment of $1,000,000 in racetrack earnings. Join us to celebrate and remember some of the greatest racehorses the Keystone State has produced.
Smart Bid: The Tough Luck Tryer
The Augustin Stable of George Strawbridge, Jr., holds the distinction as one of the most accomplished names in Pennsylvania breeding. For nearly fifty years, Strawbridge, a philanthropist, historian, investor, and educator, has campaigned world class steeplechase and flat thoroughbreds across the globe. A Philadelphia native himself, Strawbridge established his 700 plus acre Augustin Stable as a breeding and racing operation in Cochranville, Pennsylvania. Augustin Stable holds the title of all time leading steeplechase owner by earnings in North America.
To date, Strawbridge has bred five of Pennsylvania’s state-bred millionaires, a record he holds alongside Brushwood Stable. The most recent to retire was Smart Bid.
Foaled March 22nd, 2006, Smart Bid is a fourth-generation Strawbridge Pennsylvania-bred. The third dam, T.V. Ad, produced six total stakes horses, including five-time stakes winner Ratings. Ratings was bred to fellow Pennsylvania-bred stallion Danzig, and the resulting foal was G3 Sands Point Stakes winner Recording. For her fifth foal, Recording was bred to leading Kentucky stallion Smart Strike, and Smart Bid arrived in 2006.
Trained throughout his career by H. Graham Motion, Smart Bid showed promise from the start, hitting the board in his first two starts before breaking his maiden in his first try at two turns at Philadelphia Park on December 8th, 2008. Shipped west to Santa Anita Park for the winter, Smart Bid started his three-year-old campaign winning an allowance race on the grass, the surface that would define the best moments of his career. He made his turf stakes debut in the G3 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland, coming up short when losing to heavy favorite Stormalory by a neck. It was the first of six graded stakes races that Smart Bid would finish runner up.
Following a seven month layoff, Smart Bid returned on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, scoring a 14-1 shocker in the Damascus Stakes over Santa Anita’s all weather surface. From his first three victories, Smart Bid had won over all three track surfaces: dirt, turf, and synthetic. His one length victory ended up being his largest margin of victory in a stakes race.
An abbreviated four-year-old season featured tough second-place finishes in the G2 San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita and G2 Autumn Stakes at Woodbine.
Smart Bid finally had his chance to shine when campaigning exclusively on grass at age five in 2011, starting his year with a 1 ¼ length loss while finishing third in the G3 Fort Lauderdale. He reeled back with one of the most impressive races of his career, losing a heartbreaking photo finish to 25-1 Teaks North, the longest shot in the field, in the G1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.
Shipped to New Orleans, Smart Bid went off the 3-1 second choice in the G2 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds. Rolling down the center of the track under Edgar Prado, Smart Bid ranged up alongside favored Moryba while longshot Expansion surged alongside late. All three noses hit the wire together, but Smart Bid had finally prevailed by a nostril. He closed out his season with three more second place stakes finishes in the G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, G2 Sky Classic, and Colonial Turf Cup.
Rested for six months, Smart Bid returned to the sight of his best victory, rallying late to nail Mr. Vegas on the wire to win the G3 Fair Grounds Handicap by a head. Although he struggled to find the same form as the previous year, Smart Bid still recorded one final stakes victory in the East Hanover Stakes for Pennsylvania-breds at Penn National. Sent off the 1-2 odds on favorite, Smart Bid still made sure to win in typical Smart Bid fashion, holding off the late charge of See Tobe to win by a head.
In his final start on October 6th, 2012, Smart Bid finished second in an allowance race at Keeneland. The $10,240 second place prize pushed his earnings over the $1 million threshold. Retiring with six wins, eight seconds, and four thirds in twenty-six starts, Smart Bid earned $1,008,309 during a career that spanned five seasons. Winning four stakes races and placing in eight others, he competed at twelve different racetracks in seven different states and Canada. His victories spanned distances from seven to twelve furlongs.
Smart Bid retired to Highcliff Stallions in Stillwater, New York for the 2013 breeding season. Moved west in 2016, he currently resides at Milky Way Farm in Temecula, California for an advertised stud fee of $3,500.
Lord Admiral: Ireland’s Runner Up King
The Jenney’s Derry Meeting Farm has an extensive history breeding top class racing stock at their farm in Cochranville, Pennsylvania. World renowned sire Danzig is one of many that Derry Meeting’s name will forever be linked with, as well as multiple G1 winners Mrs. Lindsay and Dame Dorothy.
Lord Admiral was third-generation Derry Meeting bred through his second dam, Sue Warner, and first dam Lady Ilsley. Lady Ilsley, stakes placed from her racing days in France, was returned to the United States and bred to El Prado for her first foal. Bred in conjunction with regular English partner London Thoroughbred Services, Lord Admiral was foaled on March 27th, 2001.
Sent to the 2002 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Lord Admiral was purchased for $135,000 by prominent Irish bloodstock company BBA Ireland. He would come to be campaigned under the ownership of one of the greatest names the world of horse racing has ever known: Dr. Vincent O’Brien. O’Brien is considered by many in the thoroughbred world as the single most influential horsemen to ever grace the sport, wielding the responsibility of building the Ballydoyle and Coolmore conglomerate into the global powerhouse it is today.
With Vincent O’Brien having retired from training in 1994, Lord Admiral was trained throughout his career by O’Brien’s son, Charles. He broke his maiden in his second career try at Naas on August 4th, 2003. As a three-year-old in 2004, he quickly developed a reputation that would follow him throughout his career: frequently hitting the board, but finding the winner’s circle few and far between. He placed five times at age three, including a second-place finish in the Kilternan Stakes and a third behind eventual two-time champion Yeats in the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes.
Lord Admiral started his four-year-old season off on the right foot, scoring a 12-1 upset in the Glencairn Stakes at Leopardstown before losing the G3 Meld Stakes by a neck to Tropical Lady. After a relatively abbreviated year, he was sent to Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai at the start of his five-year-old year in 2006. And so began one of the most successful, albeit difficult, seasons of Lord Admiral’s racing career.
From ten races in 2006, all stakes, Lord Admiral finished second or third in every race. Runner up finishes in the G2 Al Fahidi Fort and G2 Jebel Hatta at Nad Al Sheba preceded his return to Ireland. Lord Admiral continued marching on to three straight third-place finishes in the Amethyst Stakes, Glencairn Stakes, and Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup behind 2005 Horse of the Year Hurricane Run. Second place efforts in the G3 Ballycorus and G3 Meld followed before a third in the G3 Kilternan, and then Lord Admiral was shipped to the United States for the chance at a run in that year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships. After running third in the G2 Oak Tree Mile as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup, Lord Admiral was instead entered in the G3 River City Handicap, where he finished his season with one final second-place finish.
Lord Admiral finally secured the group racing success that had so long eluded him during his six-year-old campaign, just hanging on to take the Group 3 Ballycorus Stakes by a head. His 2007 season also included runner up finishes in the Zabeel Mile, Trigo Stakes, and G3 Amethyst Stakes, along with thirds in the G3 Meld and G3 Solonaway. He closed his season with a one-length score in the Knockaire Stakes.
Lord Admiral continued to age like a fine wine, and at age seven in 2008, he had the most successful season of his career. Spending his third winter in Dubai, Lord Admiral came alive, winning the G3 Al Rashidiya and G2 Jebel Hatta in addition to a third place in the G2 Al Fahidi Fort. 2008 also landed him runner up efforts in the G3 Amethyst and G3 Meld before a failed fall American campaign ended his near $400,000 year.
With one more season left in the tank, Lord Admiral added one final stakes placing at age eight when losing a photo finish to She’s Our Mark in the G3 Meld. The always gallant and hard trying horse was finally retired after finishing second in a weight for age event at Dundalk on November 27th, 2009.
From seven years on the racetrack, Lord Admiral faced the starting gate fifty-five times. Remarkably, forty-eight of his fifty-five lifetime starts were stakes races. He finished his career with a total of six wins, seventeen seconds, and nine thirds. In addition to his five stakes wins, Lord Admiral hit the board in twenty-two other stakes. Racing in Ireland, Dubai, and the United States, he earned a combined total of $1,009,530.
Lord Admiral currently stands at Sans Craintes Stud in India where he’s resided since 2010.
Favorite Tale: The Philly Speedball
Paul Conaway had horses in his blood from birth and grew up breeding and raising Morgan horses with his father. Now serving as the Chairman and CEO of Wanamaker Entertainment Group, Paul runs the Philadelphia-based sports and concert ticketing company alongside his two sons. In the late 2000s, Conaway decided to put his horse breeding knowledge to good use by developing his own thoroughbred breeding and racing operation.
Conaway privately purchased the broodmare Tricky Elaine from Padua Stables in late 2009. By Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, Tricky Elaine was a half-sister to 1997 Champion 2yo Colt and Horse of the Year, Favorite Trick. Bred to Tale of the Cat, Tricky Elaine was sent to Pennsylvania where she produced her first foal for Conaway on March 10th, 2011.
Named Favorite Tale, the colt quickly developed a reputation for himself after being broken at Betsy and Ronnie Houghton’s Sylmar Farm. Conaway worried that the colt was too hard on himself during his early training days, and although he didn’t want to geld Favorite Tale because of his strong pedigree, Conaway made the decision to proceed with the operation.
So, Favorite Tale was gelded, and Conaway said it was the smartest decision he ever made.
Favorite Tale completely transformed, with Conaway describing him as going “from an elephant to a deer in his movements”. Sent to Parx Racing trainer Guadalupe Preciado, Favorite Tale debuted at the Bensalem oval on January 4th, 2014 under Conaway’s PJG Stable. A star was born.
Tracking blistering early quarters in 21.74 and 43.95, Favorite Tale took command at the top of the stretch and bounded away under minimal urging to stop the clock in 1:07.66 for six furlongs. His final time was .15 milliseconds off the track record. He returned the following month in a 6 ½ furlong allowance race, leading from start to finish and stopping the clock in 1:15.12, only .73 milliseconds off the track record. After trouncing a first-level allowance race by 14 lengths to bring his unbeaten streak to three, Favorite Tale made his stakes debut in the G3 Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct, but the 12-day turnaround proved to be too much, too soon, and he finished off the board.
Undeterred, Favorite Tale returned the following month in the Gold Fever Stakes at Belmont Park, facing off against the previous year’s G1 Champagne Stakes winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner up, Havana. With Havana sent off the 1-4 odds on favorite, Favorite Tale dueled early with Pure Sensation before taking the lead approaching the second quarter. He never looked back, landing his first stakes victory by a comfortable one-length margin, with Havana finishing three lengths behind in third.
As the summer wore on, Favorite Tale encountered a streak of tough luck, finishing second by a neck in the Oh Say Stakes at Delaware, third beaten in a head in his turf debut in the Quick Call at Saratoga, and second beaten ¾ of a length in the G3 Jersey Shore at Monmouth. Attempts made to harness Favorite Tale’s blistering early speed by rating him off the pace had failed, and his connections realized that utilizing his lethal frontrunning ability was perhaps best for the gelding.
So, when Favorite Tale made his return to Parx in the G3 Gallant Bob Stakes on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard, he was sent straight to the lead. Hooking up with 3-5 heavy favorite Fast Anna, the dueling pair blitzed eye popping fractions of 21.33 for the opening quarter and 43.38 for the half. With Fast Anna beginning to crack, Favorite Tale spun into the stretch with a two-length lead and remarkably found more as he charged to the wire. This time he was .65 off the track record, stopping the clock in 1:08.16.
From the start of Favorite Tale’s career, Conaway had fielded multiple different offers from buyers hoping to purchase the gelding. He had grappled with the decision for months, but the Gallant Bob victory, and a conversation with Dick Jerardi, had finally made up his mind. Conaway decided to keep Favorite Tale. He thought of the horse as a part of his family and realized that owners spent years in racing without getting a horse like him.
At year’s end, Favorite Tale had won 5 of 11 starts and was named Pennsylvania-bred Horse of the Year and champion three-year-old male.
Favorite Tale began his four-year-old season in the Decathlon Stakes at Monmouth with a strong runner up effort off the long layoff. Having not attempted the Breeders’ Cup the previous year, Conaway and Preciado had their sights set on the World Championship event for their gelding in 2015. Shipped to Florida, Favorite Tale was entered in the G2 Smile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream Park, a Win and You’re In event for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
The Smile Sprint had also attracted the likes of Work All Week, the previous year’s Eclipse Award champion sprinter, who culminated his championship season with a win in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. With Work All Week set off at odds of 4-5, Favorite Tale was discounted as the 7-1 fourth choice. Favorite Tale did what he did best, taking the lead early through fractions of 21.84 and 44.09, and crushing Work All Week by 4 ¼ lengths in a final time of 1:08.85, only .73 off of Gulfstream’s six-furlong track record. He had earned his spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint starting gate with ease.
Sent to Saratoga for his Grade 1 stakes debut, Favorite Tale finished third beaten two lengths after setting the early pace in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. Instead of another graded stakes try for his final Breeders’ Cup prep, the gelding returned to his home track at Parx for an allowance race. He registered a comfortable two-length victory, bringing his Parx tally to a perfect five for five.
The stage was set for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland. Favorite Tale unluckily drew the far outside post 14 in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Coupled with his unconventional final prep in a Parx allowance and his far outside post 14, he was disregarded at 23-1 odds when the gates sprung. Settling fifth in the early going, Favorite Tale lost ground while hung six wide around the turn but still managed to turn for home only three lengths behind the leaders. Meanwhile, 3-1 second choice Private Zone had already opened a 1 ½ length lead on 8-5 favorite Runhappy, who was bearing down on the frontrunner. Favorite Tale chugged on gallantly, closing the gap to 1 ¾ length at the wire, finishing a respectable third behind the two favorites. His 23-1 odds paid $10.80 to show.
Favorite Tale had one last hurrah in 2015, returning to Pennsylvania to run in the Fabulous Strike Handicap at Penn National. The gelding was never in doubt, leading gate to wire to score by two lengths as the 1-2 favorite. He was rewarded with Pennsylvania-bred champion older male and champion male sprinter for his efforts.
Favorite Tale’s unbeaten Parx record was snapped in his five-year-old debut, finishing third behind multiple graded stakes winners Stallwalkin’ Dude and El Deal in a first-level allowance race. Afterward, Favorite Tale remained on the sidelines for 17 ½ months. He finally returned during September 2017 in the Banjo Picker Stakes at Parx, where he faced off against fellow local buzzsaw The Man, who was unbeaten in five 2017 starts. The two geldings dueled for the entire six furlongs, but the near year and a half layoff proved too much for Favorite Tale to overcome, finally surrendering to his foe by a half-length at the wire. He closed out his short year with another half-length loss in the Fabulous Strike Handicap.
Remaining in training that winter, Favorite Tale debuted as a seven-year-old in the Dave’s Friend Stakes at Laurel Park. It was almost as if an ode to his earlier years with the gelding setting the pace and never looking back to score the final stakes victory of his career. The $60,000 winner’s purse pushed his earnings past the seven-figure mark.
Although never formally retired, Favorite Tale made his final start next out in the Fire Plug Stakes on January 20th, 2018. From five years on the racetrack, Paul Conaway’s gallant gelding won nine races, with five seconds, and four thirds in twenty-four career starts. He won five stakes races and placed in eight others for total earnings of $1,026,300.