When Charlie Edwin Smith takes a vacation from training racehorses, he can usually be found in a Texas courtroom.
"I've tried just about every kind of case over the years," the lawyer said along Assiniboia Downs' shed row. "I've cut back a little bit. I pick and choose, and I don't take quite as many cases, but I am still involved quite a bit in litigation."
From May 1 to Oct. 1, Smith, who owns a 40-acre spread in Annetta, Texas, and his wife Terry Propps concentrate on training, racing and breeding horses. "We're just a little family organization. All of our horses run under the name of either Terry, our eight-year-old granddaughter Madison Propps, or myself. When the season is over, I take vacation time and I try a lot of cases when I go back."
Hardly the picture of a successful Texas attorney, with his bushy moustache and long grey hair tied back in a ponytail, Smith is based at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota during racing season.
"We go to Canterbury to start the year for two or three reasons," he said. "First, they get to baby (two-year-olds) racing a little bit earlier, and we usually have some babies with us. Also, they have a grass course, and one or two of our horses are a little bit better on the grass. Also, Prairie Meadows (in Des Moines, Iowa) is about a three-hour drive from Canterbury, and Assiniboia Downs is about eight hours."
Smith is here with a few of his horses, including a two-year-old filly named Bloomtown Baby, who'll run four-and-a-half furlongs in the Downs' first baby race of the season Friday.
Smith's main focus, however, is the $25,000, one mile, Canstar Canada Day Stakes, for fillies and mares three years old and up. His four-year-old filly Ruby's Big Band is considered to be one of the top two horses in the field.
"She's a very nice horse," said Smith. "She was the champion two-year-old filly up here in 2009, and then the champion three-year-old last year. She's in an older division now, but she can go short or long, although I think the mile is her strength area."
As a two-year-old, Ruby's Big Band won the Debutante, Osiris and Winnipeg Futurity Stakes, and last year as a three-year-old won the Assiniboia Oaks and Jack Hardy Stakes.
Smith cautions, however, that nothing is a sure thing, and he tips his hat in the direction of Ruby's toughest opponent, Golden Stripe, a five-year-old mare, trained by Shelly Brown. "Golden Stripe is just running incredibly. I look for the two of them to really throw a great race for the fans. You can't count out Colony Queen (trained by Chad Torevell) either."
Like Ruby's Big Band, Golden Stripe is no stranger to the winning circle. She's the defending Canada Day champion and on June 11 she won the La Verendrye Stakes while Ruby's Big Band was third. Last year she won the Distaff, and in 2009 she won the R.C. Anderson Stakes.
When it comes to picking horses, some would say Smith and Propps are a perfect team. "Terry buys all our horses at public auction, and she is really incredible," he said. "What Terry is looking for in her mind is bloodlines that are capable of winning a $50,000 stakes or better, but most of our horses we buy for $15,000 or less. Ruby was bought for $4,500, but she fit the criteria."
As he crowds in on 63, Smith says he and Propps have discussed letting the law practice go, and just focusing on training horses.
"We've always felt that I have a lot on my plate, and I think I'm getting a little age on me and I'm slowing down a little bit, so I don't think I can do both anymore."
"I've got four or five more good years left in me for the horses, so we're seriously considering doing that."
THE CANADA DAY STAKES
Field for Friday's $25,000, Canstar Canada Day Stakes over one mile for fillies and mares three years old and older at Assiniboia Downs. Post time is 3:50 p.m.:
1. Exploding Crystals (Gustavo Ortiz)
2. Haggai (Janine Stianson)
3. Witch's Coven (David Lopez)
4. Mistress Bell (Perry Winters)
5. Mom's A Trapper (Alyssa Harder)
6. Golden Stripe (Christopher Husbands)
7. Colony Queen (Mark Anderson)
8. Ruby's Big Band (Rohan Singh)