01/05/2012 4:21PM

Fair Grounds: String King out to strike again

Amanda Weir/Hodges Photography
The nose in front belongs to String King in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf.

The time has come for Charlie Smith to hit the road again, to trek across Louisiana from tiny Haughton to New Orleans. At the terminus of Smith’s trip waits String King, the 4-year-old gelding who has rewarded Smith for several decades of dabbling in the Thoroughbred business. Smith owns a body shop in Haughton, but on the side trains a few horses at the River Point Equestrian and Training Center on the Red Chute Bayou not far from Louisiana Downs. String King, whom Smith bred and owns, is the first horse to win with Smith’s name actually down as trainer. And the win was a big one, a nose victory in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf. Saturday at Fair Grounds, String King will try to send Smith back home with a second trophy when he starts in the $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace, another grass stakes for Louisiana-breds.

String King was one of 10 horses entered in the one-mile Dixie Poker Ace, and among his rivals are the two horses who came home hot on his heels on Champions Day, Kissimmee Kyle and Wild Rally. Also in the field is Populist Politics, who chased Star Guitar to no avail in the Champions Day Classic, and finished second last Fair Grounds season in his only grass start. On turf, Populist Politics is just one possibility among several, but if the Dixie Poker Ace were to be rained onto dirt, he would be a solid favorite.

After the Champions Day race, Smith, 67, left String King at Fair Grounds in the barn of his friend, trainer Walter Fite. The gelding, a 4-year-old by Crowned King, can be hot-blooded, his trainer said. Continuity is favored over change, and Smith thought hauling String King back and forth from Haughton to Fair Grounds would prove more disruptive than anything. String King worked a half-mile on Dec. 24, and probably didn’t need to do a lot to get fit. His Champions Day race marked his first start in 2 1/2 months, and if he was ready for that, String King should be set for Saturday’s start.

The Dixie Poker Ace is a half-furlong shorter than the Champs Day Turf, but String King has won at 7 1/2 furlongs. He has raced only six times on grass and only nine times in his career. By comparison, Wildrally and Kissimmee Kyle have combined to make 63 starts, and if there’s a horse in the trio who has room to improve, it should be String King. Jockey James Graham, who helped String King gut out the last win, has a return call.

Two Morris Nicks-trained entrants, Blackntansatlarrys and Old Bushmill, are, like String King, lightly raced 4-year-olds who might not yet have hit their ceilings.