Louisiana-bred String King put away tough pacesetter Gentleman's Kitten and carried on to a well-earned victory Jan. 17 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, taking the $125,000 Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap to become a graded stakes winner.
The 7-year-old son of Crowned King has earned stakes scores the past five years for breeder Charlie Smith, who also owns and trains him.
"Absolutely marvelously special," was how Smith described watching his bay gelding sail for home under jockey James Graham to a 1-1/4-length graded win.
"Outside of winning the Kentucky Derby, winning a grade III in front of the home folks is enough for me," Smith said. "I can tell you the strength of this horse in one word -- tenacity."
String King was second in the Bradley in 2013 and fourth in 2014, but finally found his sweet spot in this season's edition. Settling easily for Graham on the rail in second as jockey Mike Smith and Gentleman's Kitten opened a five-length advantage to lead in the turf event going about 1-1/16 miles, String King waited to make his move behind early fractions of 24:17 seconds and :48.08 seconds.
Gentleman's Kitten had opened about six lengths while running three-quarters in 1:12.38, but String King ate up the distance coming off the final turn and was set down on the outside to contend with his determined rival. Those two duked it out down the early stretch until String King put away the tiring frontrunner, completing a 1:36.34 mile and carrying on to finish in 1:42.42 on soft turf. He returned $8.20, $4.20, and $2.80 as the 3-1 third choice in an eight-horse field.
Holding by a nose in a photo over Highball ($4), Gentleman's Kitten paid $4 and $3 as the second choice at 5-2. Infinite Magic, Golden Soul, 2-1 favorite Villandry, Pumpkin Rumble, and All Stormy completed the order of finish.
Out of the Fly a Kite mare String Dancer, String King improved his statistics to 15-8-3 from 34 starts for earnings of $818,552.
Later on the card, Notte D'Oro with Graham aboard won the $60,000 Marie Krantz Memorial Stakes. Owned by Twin Creeks Racing Stable and trained by Mike Stidham, Notte D'Oro covered about 1-1/16 miles on soft turf in 1:43.68. The 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro has now won four starts from seven outings for earnings of $111,060.