(First Kiss, owned in part by Gene McLean and his partner Mike Schnell, is our newest hopeful.)

As you will read below, I have had to wait a long time to get to see First Kiss run a race. And, thanks to the great people over at Allegiant Air, I will get to wait a little bit longer.

The airline made damn sure I didn’t get to leave Louisville in time to make First Kiss’ first career start in time. As a result, I was en route from the airport to Tampa Bay Downs for the race when she was loaded into the gate, and set free to do what horses do — run.

But thanks to my great friend and “brother,” Rob Murphy, who picked me up and had his telephone already tuned in to the video of the race, we both got to drive and watch. 

And, admire.

She didn’t get the win in her career debut. But she ran wonderfully and powered home to a very nice second against a filly that looked very impressive on the lead.

I will write more later. It has been a rather long day. But fruitful. 

Now, back to your regular program about First Kiss:

It has been a long wait, to be honest. Ever since my good friend, my son’s best buddy, and my horse trainer Stephen Lyster called me and told me that he had a nice 2-year-old filly that was worth buying, which was back in 2016, I have been eagerly looking forward to the day that our filly, First Kiss, would make her racing debut.

(Editor’s Note: I purchased the filly along with my longtime friend, client and now partner on the Louisville Thoroughbred Society, Mike Schnell.)

After all, since the days that I co-bred, and partially owned with my good friend Rob Murphy both Graded Stakes winner Platinum Tiara, who ran second in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies; and the days that I partially owned and raced Graded Stakes-Placed and Stakes Winner Purim’s Dancer with other friends, I have not had a filly that has both the pedigree and the credentials that First Kiss’ possesses.

So, with every trip to the barn in the morning; or with every trip to the farm in the afternoons; with every phone call that I would have with Stephen; and with anxiety and interest in between them all, I have waited. Sometimes, not so patiently, I might add.

Waited for that call to announce, we’re ready.

Waited for that text to alert, we’re in.

Waited for that first race day.

The wait – which is one of the hardest things to accept in this tough-butt business – may be over. Finally. Hopefully. On Friday, Jan. 12, First Kiss – now a newly turned 4-year-old – will get to the starting gate for the first time. (Please knock on some serious wood!)

And, on Friday, I will be headed over to the Louisville airport to catch a flight down to Tampa that morning in hopes of watching her not only start for the first time, but also win for the first time.

Hope does spring eternal, even in the dead of winter.

And, there are reasons to hope. As my old friend Herb Stevens used to say, and Jack Van Berg used to quote: “Nobody ever committed suicide with a good horse in the barn.”

And, we might just have one of those. Both in the barn. And, now, hopefully, on the track come Friday.

(The late, great Smart Strike, who stood at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles)

First Kiss, you see, is by the outstanding stallion Smart Strike, a glorious son of Mr. Prospector who managed to win the G1 Philip H. Iselin in his race career, but made his headlines as a stallion at the wonderful stallion station over at Lane’s End Farm before passing at the age of 23 back on March 25, 2015.

Any way you cut it, Smart Strike – who was bred and raced by the famed Sam-Son Farm in Canada and came from one of the farm’s bluebird mares and Canadian Hall of Famer Classy ‘n Smart — was a tremendous stallion.

To date, he has sired 18 crops of horses at racing age. In that time, he sired 1,592 foals – of which an amazing 1,245 became starters and 912 went on to be winners. Together, they have won 2,922 races – and still counting, we hope. And, together they have won over $142,773,000 in purses – and still counting, too, we hope.

One of the most amazing statistics about Smart Strike, though, is the fact that he has sired over 125 Stakes Winners from all those foals – which now amounts to about an 8% ratio. And, he sired 12 champions – including 2-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who has become one of the world’s most noted and successful sires in his own right.

Smart Strike also is the sire of English Channel, another champion in the United States who won over $5.3 million and the Breeders’ Cup Turf and now stands at stud at the famed Calumet Farm in Lexington.

And, there are others. Such as Lookin at Lucky, a two-time champion who won over $3.3 million at the track – including the Preakness Stakes. Such as My Miss Aurelia, a champ in the U.S. who won over $2.5 million and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Such as Canada’s Horse of the Year Soaring Free, who ended up winning over $2.1 million in purses.

(Battle of Midway, who ran third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby and won the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, is by Smart Strike)

If you want something more recent, look no further or farther than Battle of Midway – who won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in 2017 at Del Mar and was third in last year’s Kentucky Derby.

For all of his stud duties, Smart Strike was twice honored as the leading Sire in North America, and his contribution to the overall breed as extended to his daughters, as well.

Smart Strike is the sire of the dam of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Shared Account. He is the sire of the dam that produced Eye of the Leopard, who won the 2009 Queen’s Plate and Plate Trial Stakes at Woodbine, and the outstanding runner First Dude, who won the 2011 Hollywood Gold Cup.

So, having a daughter of Smart Strike, we hope, is a smart investment strike.

(Bridge Game winning the Modesty at Arlington Park)

 But there is more to this pedigree than just the sire power. First Kiss’ dam is Graded Stakes winner Bridge Game, who captured the G3 Modesty Handicap at Arlington Park on her way to a record of 5 wins in 10 starts and earnings that exceeded $234,500. And, she was the best runner to come from her mother, Baba Light, by Majestic Light.

While Bridge Game, who is by Giant’s Causeway, hasn’t produced a Stakes Winner (yet?), she has had 5 to race out of 8 foals and has produced 2 nice winners in geldings Shalako and Bridge Loan (both of whom won over $100,000).

And, there is more to the pedigree, too. Perhaps, the best is yet to come.

The third dam, Leery Baba, by Well Decorated. She produced the Stakes-placed winner Strategic Defense, by Conquistador Cielo, another son of Mr. Prospector. But Leery Baba’s main claim to fame is that she is a half-sister to Cee’s Song.

That the same Cee’s Song who is the dam of Tiznow, Budroyale, Tizbud, Tizdubai, and C’Mon Tiger.

(The great Tiznow, who stands at stud at WinStar Farm in Versailles)

Did you take note of the first name? Tiznow. That’s the big guy who is still the only back-to-back winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, who had 8 wins, 4 seconds and 2 thirds in his 15 lifetime starts and totaled over $6.2 million in earnings.

Tiznow is also known as the big sire of big winners. His son Tourist set a Stakes record in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Mile. Tizway won the G1 Whitney. Morning Line won the G1 Carter. Folklore became Tiznow’s first G1 winner, capturing the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Bear Now, who became a Champ, set a track record in the G3 Selene Stakes at Woodbine. Strong Mandate won the G1 Hopeful.

(The ill-fated Irap breaking his maiden in the G2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, was by Tiznow)

And, 2017 was just another great year. His ill-fated son Irap won the G2 Blue Grass Stakes as a maiden before he went on to win the Ohio and Indiana Derbies. His son Sporting Chance won the G1 Hopeful over Free Drop Billy. Term of Art won the G3 Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at Del Mar.

(Can Sporting Chance be a contender on the Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby? He, too, is by Tiznow)

And, First Kiss comes from the same female family?

Well, yes she does.

On Friday, she gets to make her first start – of what we hope will be many to come. On Friday, she finally gets to embark on a racing career that we have hoped would come and we now hope will be thrilling and fulfilling.

On Friday, the dream may not come completely true. But maybe the dream can take a step forward, and the dream can continue.

One can dream, can’t that?