Crooked Smile brings grins to owners’ faces

Ken Weingartner

Hightstown, NJ — Rhys Helt has known Tim Wilson Jr. for as long as he can remember. Their families have shared a connection going back to the 1970s when a female pacer named Ma Ma’s Bret, trained and driven by Tim Sr., was an Illinois Topline Stakes winner and the boys would pal around together at the county fairs, united by friendship and a love of harness racing.

Over the ensuing years, their passion for racing never waned. Tim Jr. embarked on his own career as a trainer and driver while Helt followed in family footsteps on the breeding and racing side. They continued to remain connected, though, by sharing ownership in horses, now most notably with 6-year-old male pacer Crooked Smile.

Crooked Smile joined the stable as a 3-year-old in August 2020. Since then, he has won 17 of 75 races and earned $233,922. Tim Wilson Jr. photo.

Crooked Smile joined the stable as a 3-year-old in August 2020. Since then, the Wilson-trained gelding has won 17 of 75 races, including multiple Opens at both Harrah’s Hoosier Park and Oak Grove Racing, and earned $233,922.

On Friday, the son of Panther Hanover-Amilewidesmile will make his 2023 debut in the $22,000 Open 1/Open 2 at Harrah’s Hoosier Park as the track hosts the first card of its 30th season. Kyle Wilfong will drive Crooked Smile, who starts from post three and is 9-2 on the morning line.

“He’s been awesome,” said Helt, who lives near Hoosier Park and works as a financial advisor in Indianapolis. “He’s the best horse I’ve ever had. I’d never had a sub-(1):50 pacer before him. We usually raise babies and bring them along to race, but he was bought privately. We just feel so fortunate to have him.”

Crooked Smile was a steady check-earner at 3, then blossomed the following season, working his way through the conditioned ranks to the Open at Hoosier Park. But before racing in the Open, his connections put the horse in a claiming handicap with an $80,000 price tag. It was not because they hoped to sell the horse, but because they were uncertain of his full potential.

“He raced himself out of the conditions and had to go in the Open, but we didn’t know if he could go right into the Open and do well,” Helt said. “I didn’t want to lose him. I was nervous, but we thought surely no one would take him the first time. He won, and we said no more claimers.

“And then he goes right into the Open, and he wins it.”

Crooked Smile captured the Open in his first attempt, rallying from seventh at three-quarters to score in 1:49.2 over a sloppy track. The time equaled his career best, which he had just set the previous week in the claiming handicap.

“He came from way off the pace and he beat some really good horses,” Helt said. “I was audibly crying when it was (1):49.2. I can’t even tell you what that meant to us. When you win an Open at Hoosier Park, that means something. I don’t care who is in the race, it’s some of the best racing in the country.

“If you can win an Open anytime at Hoosier Park, you’ve got a horse. I was over the moon. It was the best.”

Helt and his family continue to enjoy Crooked Smile. His wife and children are involved, as well as mom Donna and sisters Danielle and Kylie. The group competes under the Turn For Home Racing stable name.

“Incidentally, when they turn for home, that’s when Crooked Smile does his best work,” Helt said. “He has extreme talent, especially in the last eighth (of the mile). He loves to pick off horses. You know if he feels right, you just have to show him the track and he’s going to give you everything he’s got every time.

“He’s everything I ever wanted. He loves the game, loves being a racehorse, loves his work. He’s always happy. He’s been a joy.”

Hoosier Park stalwart Little Rocket Man, starting from post six with John DeLong in the sulky, is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in Friday’s Open. Goldie’s Legacy, with the track’s 11-time driving champion Trace Tetrick at the lines, leaves from post eight and is 7-2.

Racing begins at 6:15 p.m. EDT at Hoosier Park. For free TrackMaster past performances, visit the track’s website here and scroll down the page.

Live racing at Hoosier Park will follow a Friday, Saturday schedule the opening week; a Friday, Saturday schedule the second week; and then commence a Wednesday through Saturday schedule before adding Tuesdays beginning on June 27. The 160-day season will offer the most lucrative stakes program in the track’s history, highlighted by the return of the Breeders Crown in October.

On April 8, post time on Saturdays will transition to 7 p.m. throughout the remainder of the season. Live racing will be conducted through Dec. 9.

For more on Hoosier Park’s season opener, click here.

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