String King has won the Fair Grounds’ $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf race three times.
However, Saturday’s 25th running of the race still will be special, said Charles C. Smith, who owns and trains String King. A victory would further cement his legacy as a top Louisiana-bred and would put him at more than $1 million in career earnings.
“He’s a shade less than $20,000 short (of $1 million),” Smith said. “It’s unfathomable. I never would have thought I’d have a million-dollar horse when I started out with him.
“There have been about three dominant Louisiana-breds in the last four or five years — Star Guitar, Sunbean and String King. So a win Saturday shows he’s still going strong.”
String King, a 7-year-old gelding, has won three of the past four Champions Day Turf races. After winning back-to-back Turfs, he missed the 2013 race when Smith opted for the more pretigious, richer $150,000 Classic at the Fair Grounds. String King lost by a nose to Sunbean.
String King bounced back to win last year’s Turf, then in January had a stunning win in the E.R. Bradley Stakes in which he beat Golden Soul, who had finished second in the Kentucky Derby. Golden Soul was owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, trained by Dallas Stewart and had Mike Smith as his jockey.
“You just see the little man sometimes come out on top with the obscure breeding compared to the blue-bloodied Kentucky-bred horses,” Charles Smith said.
This season, String King has won four of five races, giving him 18 wins in 38 starts. He has a different jockey after James Graham opted to race in California. However, Richard Eramia, Smith said, has been on String King for 10 races during his career, including three of the four wins this season.
Hopeful Notion is among those who could challenge String King, but his trainer, Eddie Johnston, said getting a win will be difficult.
“String King is the Star Guitar of the grass,” Johnston said. “Well’s Gold is in there, and he’s going to show speed. If String King gets a pace pushed at him, I’m going to be laying back and see if I can make that late run at him.”
The Turf will be the sixth of 13 races that include 11 stakes worth $1.1 million across multiple divisions. Johnston said Champions Day means a lot to trainers.
“It’s the Breeders’ Cup of Louisiana,” he said. “We’re spread all over the state. Champions Day brings all your best Louisiana-breds together. It’s really good for the game, a lot of quality racing.”
Post time is 12:30 p.m. The day begins with the Quarter Horse Classic, a 440-yard run. Open Me a Corona, who has won five consecutive stakes races since February is the favorite.
The most pretigious race is the $150,000 Classic, the 10th, in which Mobile Bay, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado, is the favorite. Mobile Bay has won the $400,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs and the $210,000 Zia Park Derby.
Cajun Conoseir, coming off a four-month layoff, is the pick in the Lassie. Sea Vow, who won the $150,000 Legacy Stakes at Delta Downs, is favored in the Juvenile.
Heitai, a 15-time stakes winner trained by New Orleanian Tom Amoss, heads the field for the Sprint. Heitai was second in last year’s race won by Too Dim.
Wind Chill Factor is back for the Ladies Sprint after winning it in 2014. Pacific Pink and Heatseaker Sharon head the field for the Ladies Stakes.
Heza Louisiana Dash is the top horse in the 400-yard Quarter Horse Derby, and Telerosa heads the field for the Quarter Horse Juvenile.
Deep Bottom heads the field for the $50,000 Starter Handicap for Louisiana-breds who have started for races of $12,500 or less in 2015.