String King Ready for Dixie Poker Ace

String King and jockey James Graham (black cap) puts his nose in front of Kissimmee Kyle and Wildrally to win the 21st running of the Louisiana Day Turf at Fair Grounds.  Hodges Photography / Amanda Weir
Charlie Smith’s String King gave his owner his first career victory as a trainer in Fair Grounds’ $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf three weeks ago, but does the owner-trainer who also bred the 4-year-old gelding think a second String King win is likely this weekend in New Orleans? In other words, can String King ace Saturday’s $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes?


The 31st renewal of the Dixie Poker Ace – restricted to accredited Louisiana-breds and renamed a few years ago in honor of the winner of the first three editions of the Louisiana Champions Day Turf – is scheduled to be contested at about one mile over Fair Grounds’ Stall-Wilson turf course as the featured race this weekend. The Champions Day Turf run three weeks ago was run at about 1 1/16-miles.


“He’s training great – in fact he’s training super,” said Smith, speaking over the phone from his Haughton, Louisiana, home base Thursday of String King, who breezed a half mile in 51.80 at Fair Grounds on Christmas Eve in his only recorded move since his nose victory in the Turf Dec. 10. “I couldn’t be happier with how he’s coming up to the race Saturday, and I’m not concerned at all about the shorter distance he’s running Saturday.


“The only thing that bothers me about Saturday’s race is the weights,” said Smith, immediately switching to a caveat worthy of consideration. “He’s going to be the youngest horse in there (foaled April 1, 2008), but he’s being asked to carry the most weight (124 pounds). Wildrally, who finished third, two noses behind us last time, is dropping four pounds, and we’re picking up nine. That’s a 13-pound swing in the weights. Wildrally is a good horse. He won the Dixie Poker Ace last year.


“It’s the weights Saturday that have me worried,” said Smith. “The distance Saturday does not. You know the old saying, ‘Weight will stop a freight train.’”


Smith, 65, a Louisiana native, bought his first horse as a Thoroughbred owner back in 1973. He suffered through some heartbreaking initial setbacks as a breeder, but stuck with his game plan and is now in a position to reap further rewards. However, the hard years have also inspired the necessary economic prescience of Smith’s dream, as evidenced by his travel plans for the upcoming weekend.


“I’m still in Haughton, so I plan to leave at about six o’clock Saturday morning to come over to Fair Grounds,” Smith said. “The hotel where we stayed three weeks ago was $30 a night that time, but when I called that hotel back to see if I could reserve a room for this trip they wanted more than $200 a night for the same room. I guess that’s because of that (BCS) Bowl game Monday. So I think we’ll be looking for a room in Covington.”



Sebastien Farm silks were sported when Dixie Poker Ace won the first three runnings of Fair Grounds’ $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf in the early ‘90s, but it is Lora Pitre, owner/manager of Peach Lane Farms in Opelousas, Louisiana, who has made sure the gallant gelding has enjoyed a successful retirement since his profit-producing years came to an end.


Pitre has taken care of Dixie Poker Ace for the last 16 years of his life, and is still able to report good news about the gelding’s life since he came under her care about six months after he stopped racing.


“He’s getting old, and he’s starting to show his age,” said Pitre of Dixie Poker Ace, who has Saturday’s Fair Grounds featured stakes race named in his honor. “He’s been getting a little grayer around the muzzle lately, and he’s lost some teeth, but he still gets around pretty good. Sometimes, when we go to catch him in his paddock, he’s still able to run away if that’s what he feels like doing that day. 


“The important thing is, he’s still a happy horse,” said Pitre. “He eats everything he’s given and he’s still enjoying his life. As long as that’s the case, we’re going to try to keep him around as long as we can.”


Although Pitre has about 100 horses on her farm, including a handful of stallions, a number of boarders and a host of broodmares, that equine total includes a baker’s dozen of retirees in addition to Dixie Poker Ace.


“Those guys deserve a place to live, too,” said Pitre. “I don’t make any money on them.”





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