Kentucky Derby pedigree profile: Smile Happy

November 30th, 2021

Smile Happy put smiles on the faces of his supporters when he rallied to a decisive victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) at Churchill Downs, in the process joining the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Smile Happy has continued to compete with aplomb against tough competition, finishing second in both the Risen Star S. (G2) and Blue Grass S. (G1). The question is, will Smile Happy’s success on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail translate to glory on the first Saturday in May? He’s proven his class, and he’s shown his affinity for the Churchill Downs main track. But can he handle the Derby’s testing 1 1/4-mile distance?

Handicappers might initially be skeptical of Smile Happy’s pedigree. The dark bay colt is a son of Runhappy, a champion sprinter who counted the six-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and seven-furlong King’s Bishop S. (G1) as his signature triumphs. In the end, Runhappy retired with a perfect 7-for-7 record sprinting and a 0-for-3 tally running one mile or farther.

Smile Happy Pedigree

Maria's Mon, 1993
Super Saver, 2007
Supercharger, 1995
Runhappy, 2012
Broken Vow, 1997
Bella Jolie, 2007
Jolie Boutique, 1994
Smile Happy, 2019
Pleasant Colony, 1978
Pleasant Tap, 1987
Never Knock, 1979
Pleasant Smile, 2006
Relaunch, 1976
Relax and Smile, 1986
Bunch of Smiles, 1982

But just because Runhappy was a sprinter doesn’t mean Smile Happy must follow the same path. Runhappy was actually bred to run long; sire Super Saver won the 2010 Kentucky Derby (G1) and has sired several long-winded types at stud, including Letruska (voted champion older dirt female in 2021) and Happy Saver (victorious in the 1 1/4-mile Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup).

Furthermore, Runhappy has proven versatile as a stallion. While he’s sired quality sprinters—such as six-furlong Vosburgh S. (G2) hero Following Sea—several of his foals have enjoyed success running one mile or farther, including Sorority S. winner Runup and Gander S. hero Nicky the Vest. Since Runhappy’s first foals only reached the races in 2020, his abilities as a sire are still largely unknown, and there’s a chance he’ll emerge as a surprising source of stamina.

Even if Runhappy ultimately proves to be a greater source of speed than two-turn proficiency, Smile Happy doesn’t have to rely exclusively on his sire for long-winded genetics. The bottom half of Smile Happy’s pedigree is indisputably stamina-oriented, starting with his dam, Pleasant Smile.

Pleasant Smile wasn’t much of a racehorse, with her three victories coming in low-level claimers. But she displayed enough stamina to win twice running one mile or farther, a trait she’s passed on to her first two starters: Willy Smile (victorious three times running long) and Wilko Rum (third in the 1 1/8-mile Manitoba Derby).

Pleasant Smile, in turn, is a daughter of Pleasant Tap, champion older male of 1992. Victorious in multiple Grade 1 races over 1 1/4 miles, Pleasant Tap ran third in the 1990 Kentucky Derby and clearly passed on stamina at stud. His best runners included 1 1/2-mile Japan Cup (G1) winner Tap Dance City, 1 1/4-mile Champion S. (G1) hero David Junior, and 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Tiago, who placed third in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont S. (G1) and 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Taking all of these factors together, Smile Happy boasts a stronger pedigree than appearances first suggest. Runhappy may have been a pure sprinter, but Smile Happy has the breeding to be a two-turn star—perhaps even a Kentucky Derby winner.