Tyler Smith imagined a day when he would get the chance to be the regular driver of a Grand Circuit horse. In his mind, he thought the opportunity might come a decade from now. In reality, it is now.
The 21-year-old Smith, who last season was the leading driver at Hoosier Park and became the youngest driver to reach 1,000 career wins, will be the regular driver of 3-year-old male pacer Let's Drink On It.
Let's Drink On It, who finished last year by winning the American-National Stakes with Brian Sears in the sulky, is the 5-2 morning line favorite in Saturday's third of three $75,000 divisions of the Somebeachsomewhere Stakes at Mohawk Racetrack. The Somebeachsomewhere is the final prep for the North America Cup, for which eliminations are June 7 and the $1 million final is June 14.
Smith, who drove Let's Drink On It once last year, qualified the colt twice this season and has driven the horse to two wins in two starts. Let's Drink On It is coming off a 1:49 win in a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on May 17. That time is the fastest by a 3-year-old pacer so far this season.
"He qualified the horse and it looked like he got along with the horse very well,” trainer Joe Seekman said. "He's got confidence in the horse. There's nothing better than a driver with confidence in your horse.”
Smith, an Ohio native with 1,376 wins to his credit, is thrilled to have the chance to drive Let's Drink On It. Last season, Smith set career highs with 507 victories, which tied for 12th best among all drivers in North America, and $3.66 million in purses.
"I thought maybe when I was 30 I'd get an opportunity like this,” Smith said. "To be 21 and asked to stick with (Let's Drink On It), it's a dream come true.
"I know I've got more high hopes for him than a lot of people. I know he's rated under some other horses, and he should be at this point because those horses accomplished more last year. But there's something about him that I think is special.”
Smith's trip to Mohawk will be his first visit to Canada. The decision to give up drives at Hoosier Park was difficult, but necessary.
"The Indiana Sire Stakes (first leg finals) are the same night as the North America Cup elims and I've got horses in every division that I think could be one or two,” Smith said. "But I've got to do this. This could be my ticket.”
Let's Drink On It won five of 12 races and $174,601 last year. A son of stallion Art Official out of the mare Letmedowneasy, the colt was purchased for $12,000 at the 2012 Lexington Selected Sale. Seekman trained Art Official, who is best remembered for his upset of Somebeachsomewhere in the 2008 Meadowlands Pace.
Seekman was impressed with Let's Drink On It's performance in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes, but thought the colt's debut 1:50.1 win on May 10 in a conditioned race at Hoosier was even better. Let's Drink On It paced the last half-mile in :53.1 to beat 7-year-old Meirs Hanover by five lengths.
"It's kind of a wide-open (3-year-old) division this year,” said Seekman, who trains Let's Drink On It for wife Tina Seekman, Larry Bond, Hal Hewitt and Vincent Boido Jr. "I don't know if he's a top one, but I think he's going to make his presence felt.”
Joining Let's Drink On It in the third division of the Somebeachsomewhere Stakes are Melmerby Beach, Jet Airway, Boomboom Ballykeel, That's My Opinion, He's Watching, Bugger Bruiser, and Surprise Hanover.
He's Watching was the 2013 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old male pacer after dominating the New York Sire Stakes circuit. He made his seasonal debut last weekend in the eliminations for the Art Rooney Pace at Yonkers, but he finished sixth and failed to advance to the final.
"It was an unfortunate set of circumstances,” co-owner/trainer Dave Menary said after the race. "There didn't appear to be any physical issues, but what happened happened. He's too good a horse, and we'll go back and see. I'm confident this is just going to be a blip on the radar.” (HRC)