By Dan Johnson
Bobby Frankel wanted to make sure Euchre was put to work early in the $401,625 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) on July 7.
"He's a little bit of a lazy horse," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "You have to ride him hard. You can't just sit and take a hold of him. He'll drop back too far. You have to keep busy on him all the way."
Jockey Garrett Gomez followed Frankel's instructions perfectly, having Stronach Stable's Euchre press pacesetters Dixie Dot Com and Sure Shot Biscuit from the time he left the gate. Dixie Dot Com began to inch away from Sure Shot Biscuit on the far turn, and dug in when Euchre ran at him. Gomez kept asking Euchre to run, and the 5-year-old gelding finally wore the speedster down with about 200 yards left for a 1 3/4-length victory. It was 10 3/4 lengths back to local hope Sure Shot Biscuit in third.
"When I first came to him, Dixie Dot Com quickened on me," Gomez said. "This is a big horse, and Bobby told me he doesn't quicken a whole lot, so you have to keep him in an honest drive the whole way. When we turned for home, Dixie Dot Com ran away from me by about a length.
"I moved my horse out and he came again, he got that momentum going and kept on going. By the time I got head-and-head with Dixie Dot Com, he put him away within two or three jumps. I couldn't ask the horse to run a better race."
Euchre paid $8.80. His time was 1:47.72, or about a second slower than the track record set by Beboppin Baby while winning the 1998 Cornhusker.
Dixie Dot Com, the 119-pound highweight and the 9-10 favorite, was trying for his first victory at nine furlongs.
"That horse that won it ran a big race," said Dixie Dot Com's trainer, William Morey Jr. "He's a good horse. I thought (Dixie Dot Com) ran a great race. We just got outrun."
Iowa-bred Sure Shot Biscuit passed the Cyclones Stakes against state-breds, which he won last year, to try the Cornhusker.
"We're happy with the way he ran," trainer Kelly Von Hemel said of Sure Shot Biscuit. "It's a great thrill to run in this, and we hit the board."
Defending champion Sir Bear was 4 3/4-lengths behind Sure Shot Biscuit in fourth.
Euchre has now won six of 16 races, with the Cornhusker's $240,000 winner's share being his biggest paycheck and giving him his third graded stakes triumph. He has earned $691,545 in his career. Frankel needed a change of heart for Euchre to make the trip to Iowa. He said he nearly pulled Euchre out of the Cornhusker because he was unhappy about the weights. Euchre was assigned to carry 116 pounds, the same as defending champion Sir Bear. Guided Tour, who didn't run, was assigned 114 pounds after winning the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. II), and that also irked Frankel.
"I was very close (to not running)," Frankel said. "I was really mad at the weights. Whether I won or lost had nothing to do with it. Giving two pounds to Guided Tour, who just beat Captain Steve in the Stephen Foster, that doesn't make sense. And being equal weights with Sir Bear, who won the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. I), doesn't make sense.
"I called and said we weren't coming, then I called back a little later and said 'yes.' "
Frankel's Skimming ran second in last year's Cornhusker and used that race as a springboard into national prominence. Frankel said he's hoping for the same impact from Euchre, who is part of Frankel's powerful handicap arsenal that also includes Aptitude, Skimming, and Lido Palace.
"He ran a really big race," Frankel said. "I think that might have been one of his better races. He is in good form. He's a 5-year-old gelding, and he's not overraced. Maybe he's coming into his own right now."
The Cornhusker closed Prairie Meadows' Thoroughbred-only racing season. Betting for the 53-day season averaged $670,093 per day, with average on-track betting of $84,633. The overall betting was down 18.6% from last year's $823,050 average. The on-track average was an 8.5% drop from the 2000 spring meet average of $92,508.
About $90,000 of the decline in the daily handle came from a loss of Sunday simulcasting as the track switched from evening to afternoon racing in an attempt to boost its on-track turnout.