12/14/2011 5:13PM

Fair Grounds: String King's score a boost for 'the little guy'

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Lou Hodges Jr.
Charlie Smith got his first victory as a trainer when String King won the Louisiana Champions Day Turf.

String King paid at win odds of 4-1 in last Saturday’s Louisiana Champions Day Turf, but the longer-term odds of this horse winning a $100,000 race were astronomical.

String King, a son of the obscure sire Crowned King, was bred, is owned, and is trained by Charlie Smith, who has dabbled in Thoroughbreds – to no great effect – since 1973. String King’s dam, String Dancer, is one of three mares Smith has owned and bred over the last 28 years. Smith’s first two mares both met with terrible luck: One was struck by lightning and died, while the other was kicked in the head by another horse and killed. Still, Smith kept on with the horses, winning a race here and there as an owner. The $100,000 Turf was his first stakes win, though, and his first-ever win as a trainer.

“That was one for the little guy, I guess,” Smith said, reached by phone Wednesday at his home in Haughton, La., a town that sits a little east of Shreveport. “It’s just unfathomable to imagine the feeling and the elation when you win a race, much less a race like that.”

String King, still just a 3-year-old, has won half his six turf starts, and has now earned more than $114,000.

Smith, 67, keeps his couple of horses at the River Point Equestrian and Training Center, which sits just across the Red Chute Bayou from Louisiana Downs. From Smith’s condo, it’s about a 30-second golf cart ride to the stables.

“It’s a deep sandy track that’s real good for legging horses up, but you don’t want to go too fast on it,” Smith said.

Smith pays a woman to hotwalk, but he does all the rest of the work – feeding, grooming, cleaning stalls – on his own. After tending to the horses in the morning, Smith heads off to his day job, a paint and body shop that he has owned for decades.

“I’ve been in the same little old place for 31 years this past October, the same little old rathole spot. I had visions of grandeur at first,” said Smith.

Smith traveled back from New Orleans to Haughton last weekend without his stable star, leaving String King at Fair Grounds with trainer Walter Fite, an old friend from Haughton. Smith had sent his horse in almost three weeks before the Turf to give String King a chance to settle into his new surroundings. The Dixie Poker Ace, String King’s next target, is on Jan. 7, and Smith saw no point to hauling the horse back to the other side of the state.

“This horse is pretty hot, pretty fiery. I knew it wouldn’t do a bit of good to ship him down there and run, because he’d have left his race on the van or someplace,” Smith said.

String Dancer, String King’s dam, died last March at age 21. But Smith still has her 7-year-old daughter, String Ready, whom he plans to breed in 2012, and there’s a 2-year-old half-brother to String King who is training on the River Point oval.

“The exercise rider says he’s better than his brother,” Smith said. “I don’t know about that yet, but I guess I’d be okay with it if it turned out to be true.”

Feature looks like anyone’s race

Friday’s nominal feature, an entry-level, six-furlong dirt-sprint allowance race, looks so wide open that even the horse whose lone start came at Mountaineer Park, Tater Downs, looks like he has a chance.

Tater Downs won that Mountaineer race by six lengths, and the two behind him returned to win the next time they ran. Tater Downs has been working well in Kentucky for trainer Mark Hubley, and might have a chance to upset shorter-priced rivals like Fusa Code, Ruse, and Duke of Del Rey in Friday’s eighth race.