Champion English Channel. NYRA Photo.

Leading Turf Sire English Channel Dies at Age 19

By Alicia Hughes

Champion English Channel, a leading turf sire known for passing on his tenacity to his offspring, died on Nov. 11 at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, Calumet Farm announced. The son of Smart Strike was 19.

Calumet Farm had announced on Wednesday that English Channel was likely to miss the 2022 breeding season due to unspecified health issues. In a release, the farm said the chestnut stallion’s health deteriorated rapidly over the last 24 hours and he passed Thursday morning.

“English Channel experienced success in his racing career, which lead to a prolific stallion career that is only matched by some of the greats,” Calumet said in a statement. “English Channel certainly went out on top. He was the number 1 turf sire for the past two years and you could consistently find his progeny on the board in the top turf races across the country.”

“English Channel has meant so much to Calumet throughout the years and we appreciate all the breeders who also supported him. He will be buried in the famed Calumet cemetery alongside many other champions from the farm’s storied history. It is a well-earned and fitting final resting place for such a spectacular horse.”

Bred in Kentucky by Keene Ridge Farm, English Channel wasn’t sizable in stature but made a massive impression on those closest to him at every point of call in his life. Picked out by J.J. Pletcher, father of Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, and purchased for just $50,000 as a yearling out of the 2003 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, English Channel had the family patriarch declaring him a future star from the moment he first had a saddle on his back.

“It’s just a really sad day for all of us,” Todd Pletcher said on the passing of English Channel. “So much of the credit for his success goes to my dad who found him as a yearling and absolutely just fell in love with the horse when he first saw him. He saw something in him that not everyone else saw because he only paid $50,000 for him. But I remember him telling me very early on when he was breaking him, ‘I really think this horse is something special’.

“When I first saw him (English Channel) in December around Christmas, he wasn’t a physically imposing horse so I’m thinking to myself  ‘Is this the same horse you were telling me about’? But he loved everything about him. And he brought a lot of joy to the Pletcher stable.”

Conditioned by Pletcher for owner James Scatuorchio, English Channel showcased his tenacity through a career that saw him win 13 of 23 career starts and bankroll $5,319,028. His best season came in 2007 when he annexed three Grade 1 races including an exclamation point of an effort when he toppled a field that included heavily favored Group 1 winner Dylan Thomas (IRE) by a record-setting even lengths in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Monmouth Park. 

That Breeders’ Cup win would mark the final start of English Channel’s career and backstopped him to the 2007 Eclipse Award for champion grass horse.

“He was a tough horse. He was a tough horse around the barn, he was a tough horse to gallop but it was all about just him being so competitive,” Pletcher said. “He brought a lot of joy to the Scatuorchio family being able to win at their home track in Monmouth.”

English Channel also won consecutive editions of both the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and the United Nations Stakes (G1), taking each race in 2006 and 2007, and prevailed in the 2006 edition of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1).

The toughness that made him a champion on the track was passed on to English Channel’s progeny as he quietly established a reputation as one of the leading producers of grass talent in North America. Included among his top offspring are Channel Maker, who was named champion turf male of 2020, Canadian champions Heart to Heart, Admiralty Pier, Interpol, Strait of Dover, and Johnny Bear, and Grade 1 winners War Like Goddess, Channel Cat, The Pizza Man, Voodoo Song, and V. E. Day

After initially entering stud at Hurricane Hall, English Channel later stood at Lane’s End before joining the Calumet roster in 2014. He has seven champions and 33 graded stakes winners from 11 crops of racing age with progeny earnings of more than $62.9 million. 

“I give (Calumet Farm owner Brad) Kelley credit because (English Channel) wasn’t a popular horse to go to stud,” Pletcher said. “He believed in him and bought him and bought some mares to help make him. It’s sad because he was finally generating the respect he deserved as a stallion. He wasn’t commercially popular. I think more and more breeders were beginning to appreciate how good of a stallion he was.”

English Channel currently ranks as North America’s leading turf sire for 2021 having led those standings in 2020.