With six stakes worth more than $1 million, Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino will hold its biggest racing weekend of the year June 24-25, highlighted by the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III).
Iowa Festival of Racing commences on Friday evening with three stakes worth a total of $325,000 including the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap, which drew standouts Atta Boy Roy and Ventana. Saturday’s card features the $200,000 Iowa Oaks (gr. III) and $250,000 Iowa Derby (gr. III) for 3-year-olds, as well as the Cornhusker, which drew a field of 11 older horses.
First post on both nights is 6:30 p.m. CDT. The Cornhusker is set for 10:17 p.m. Saturday.
The 1 1/8-mile Cornhusker is led by grade I winner Awesome Gem. The 8-year-old gelding, with earnings of more than $2.5 million from 43 starts, enters off a victory in the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) on May 30 and was tagged as the 120-pound high weight.
Based in California with Craig Dollase, West Point Thoroughbreds’ Awesome Gem missed by only a neck when fourth two starts back in the Alysheba (gr. III) at Churchill. Overall, he is a four-time graded winner, including the 2010 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I). Robby Albarado will ride the son of Awesome Again from post 4.
No other horse in the Cornhusker has anything close to the résumé that Awesome Gem possesses, but that doesn’t mean the race will not be competitive. Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Headache, winner of the Claiming Crown Jewel last year, enters off a sharp optional claiming win at Churchill Downs May 31 when he scored by 7 1/2 lengths for trainer Mike Maker. It Happened Again, trained by Steve Asmussen for Maggi Moss, won the Razorback Handicap (gr. III) earlier this season, one of two stakes wins in his career. And Al and Bill Ulwelling’s Stachys defeated It Happened Again last out in the local Jim Rasmussen Memorial Stakes May 28 for his third stakes win.
The Iowa Derby attracted a field of eight sophomores, led by Preakness (gr. I) third-place finisher Astrology and Ohio Derby (gr. III) winner Caleb's Posse.
Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s Astrology has never finished off the board in eight starts in his career, but seeks his first win since last year’s Iroquois (gr. III). In 2011, he finished runner-up in the Sunland Derby (gr. III) and Jerome (gr. II) before a good run in the Preakness at odds of 15-1 for Asmussen. Since the Preakness, Astrology has worked four times at Churchill, including a four-furlong move in :49 3/5 on June 20. Mike Smith will have the mount.
Caleb’s Posse, who will carry top weight of 122 pounds, scored his second stakes win of the year June 4 when he came from off the pace to take the Ohio Derby at Thistledown. Trained by Donnie Von Hemel, the son of Posse also won the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park and was runner-up in the Rebel (gr. II).
Von Hemel will also be represented by Sherriff Cogburn, who won the Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile Stakes last year and was third as the favorite in the June 4 Prairie Mile.
Leading the way in the Iowa Oaks is Daisy Devine, who won the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) in March before finishing seventh in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). A field of six was drawn.
In the Iowa Sprint Handicap on Friday night, graded stakes winners Ventana and Atta Boy Roy square off in a field of seven. Bob Baffert trainee Ventana won the Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III) by a neck in his last start on Preakness Stakes (gr. I) Day at Pimlico Race Course. The narrow victory broke a four-race losing streak for the 5-year-old son of Toccet, who scored in the Potrero Grande Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita in 2010. With Rafael Bejarano flying in for the mount, he was pegged as the 7-5 morning-line choice.
Washington-bred Atta Boy Roy finished second in this race a year ago, falling to Eclipse Award finalist Majestic Perfection, who set the track record in 1:07.24 while earning a 117 Beyer Speed Figure. A four-time stakes winner including the 2010 Churchill Downs (gr. II), Atta Boy Roy enters off a runner-up finish to Noble’s Promise in the June 4 Aristides (gr. II) at Churchill Downs. Jesus Castanon will ride the 6-year-old for trainer Valerie Lund.
The $100,000 Saylorville Stakes for filly and mare sprinters drew a field of six, while the $100,000 Iowa Distaff attracted seven female routers. Trainer Bret Calhoun has a solid chance in both, sending out morning-line favorite Beat the Blues in the Saylorville and Bella Medaglia in the Iowa Distaff. Beat the Blues missed by a neck to Sassy Image in the May 30 Winning Colors (gr. III) at Churchill, while Bella Medaglia was a sharp allowance winner last month at Churchill.
$300,000 Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III, Race 9, 10:17 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Headache (KY), M Mena, 114, M J Maker
2. It Happened Again (KY), M E Smith, 115, S M Asmussen
3. Schramsberg (KY), K S Tohill, 114, C A Hartman
4. Awesome Gem (KY), R Albarado, 120, C Dollase
5. Fast Alex (KY), E Razo Jr., 115, G Geier
6. Victory Pete (FL), R Bejarano, 115, A Barba
7. Red Lead (FL), P Teator, 113, C A Hartman
8. Cryptolight (KY), T J Thompson, 114, T E Martin
9. Shadowbdancing (FL), J L Castanon, 116 T Gore
10. Stachys (KY), D C Bell, 116, M E Biehler
11. Black Hills (FL), J Barton, 114, B G Hone