Andrew T. Smith has been waiting for something like this for over 30 years.
As he sits in his old office chair on the fourth floor of the First Bank & Trust Co. building in downtown Ardmore, he beams with a smile from ear to ear, watching horse racing videos and telling stories of his three-year-old, male quarter horse, Wicked Courage.
He's been involved with horse racing and horse training since 1980, but he's never had a horse like this one.
"It's a dream come true for me," said Smith, who's lived Ardmore for years and worked long in partnership with his father, Harris, in owning Ardmore Drilling Co. "I've been involved with horse racing for a long time and I've never had anything like this horse."
Rightfully so, as his dark, night-colored racehorse has ripped off seven straight wins, setting up for a chance to complete one of the greatest quarter horse seasons ever.
After purchasing the horse in September 2011 from the historic 6666 Ranches in Guthrie (Texas) for $4,000, Smith and his team got Wicked Courage ready to run by the next spring.
Wicked Courage ran five races from March to August, finishing in the top five in all, but winning none. That changed on Sept. 23.
Wicked Courage won his first race at Will Rogers Downs in Claremore, which began an elite tear that would certainly turn some heads.
Smith, 62, and his team continued to return to Claremore and Wicked Courage continued to win. Wicked Courage would win four more races within the next month-all at Will Rogers Downs — and the team was making the whole quarter horse racing thing look easy. Wicked Courage's latest win to that point in November was his biggest thus far, raking in $167,597.
However, prior shin and knee problems would suddenly require surgery for Wicked Courage after his fifth straight win in November.
"We took it slow," Smith said. "We didn't want to run him back out there too quick after he had five chips taken out of his knees. He has such a desire to win and he refuses to lose. He's a very lively horse, but we wanted to keep him healthy."
The first race following the surgery was the Bob Moore Memorial Stakes at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, a shorter race than normal (300 yards instead of 400). Smith and his team were anxious to see how their previously hot horse would fair.
After stumbling out of the gates, literally, Wicked Courage recovered and ran away from his competitors with ease — his sixth straight win. For Smith, it was unlike anything he'd ever seen.
"He immediately fell from the starting gate to his knees," laughed Smith. "I looked at my wife and neither of us could believe it. We thought the streak was done."
Page 2 of 3 - The streak wasn't done; it was only becoming more impressive.
Wicked Courage's next stop was Ruidoso Downs, one of the premier quarter horse racetracks in the country and a place that Smith had been before.
"I'd taken plenty of horses down there before, but would always finish middle of the pack like fifth or sixth, or even last," he said. "But I knew it would be different with him."
Smith was right, as Wicked Courage qualified for the derby by winning his heat, stretching the streak to six. But he qualified in the last spot, as he was faced with a 25-mile per hour headwind, different from the other derby trials.
But Smith wasn't worried about being the last horse in, he knew what Wicked Courage had in him, and he thought the trial conditions make have skewed the results.
"I knew he'd have a chance to compete and win, because of how well he ran into the headwind," said Smith. "Wicked isn't a real big horse, but he's big in his heart. A great racehorse has to be big somewhere."
The owner was right, yet again, as Wicked Courage won his seventh straight — and biggest race — by a neck length from a not-so-friendly spot, in the eighth gate.
"He's got a gear that a lot of horses don't have," Smith said. "I call it an overdrive. Well, Wicked has a super overdrive."
Super overdrive is right, as Wicked Courage won Smith and his team, comprised of trainer Louis Villafranco and jockey Cody Jensen, $345,557 in the first race of the Ruidoso Triple Crown.
"Both of those guys deserve so much credit," Smith said. "He's tougher than just about anyone. We're glad to have him and he's been great during this winning stretch. Louis deserves a lot of credit for the training and personal care of the horse.
"Louis told all of us last year, 'Wicked may just be a million-dollar horse if we can keep him healthy.' I think he might be right."
Wicked Courage has already amassed a total of $593,333 since last September, with many of the larger purse races left on the schedule.
And the right people seem to be taking notice, as Wicked Courage has moved up to No. 4 in the national quarter horse rankings, released by the American Quarter Horse Association.
"When you win these races out there (Ruidoso), you get people's attention," said Smith. "They call it 'going to the mountain' and if you 'go to the mountain,' you'd better have a horse that can run."
Smith, who owns a farm north of Dickson that's been home to racehorses for years, isn't staying put anytime soon, as they head back to Ruidoso in July for the second leg of the Ruidoso Triple Crown, the Rainbow Derby.
Page 3 of 3 - "We think he has a chance to be one of the greatest in the history of quarter horses," said Smith. "The triple crown has only been done once in 50 years."
If he can win his last four races, Wicked Courage has a chance to bring in over $4 million, the most ever for a horse in a year's span.
Even with all of the money earned, for Smith and his camp, it's still about the enjoyment of watching his horse continue to be victorious.
"It's not about the money for me," he said. "It's more about watching my special horse be able to win all of these races."
Follow Carter on Twitter: @wcarterARD