by Dan Johnson
Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino will boost the standard minimum purse for unrestricted stakes to $75,000 when its Thoroughbred meet runs April 18 to Aug. 9.
In all, Prairie Meadows will offer 33 stakes worth more than $3 million, topped by three grade III stakes: the $200,000 Iowa Oaks, the $250,000 Iowa Derby, and the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap. All three will be run June 28 as part of the Iowa Festival of Racing.
The biggest purse boost came for the Aug. 9 Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile, usually the year's first one-mile dirt stakes for 2-year-olds. It was raised to $100,000 from $60,000.
"We looked at the numbers we've had in the past and the quality," said Derron Heldt, Prairie Meadows' director of racing. "It looks like it's positioned well and is something we can grow. If someone has a major horse that needs some distance, maybe we can get a quality 2-year-old that doesn't want to run short."
Six other stakes were boosted from $60,000 to $75,000: the Goldfinch and Panthers for 3-year-old fillies; the Golden Circle and Prairie Mile for 3-year-old males; and the Prairie Express and Rasmussen Memorial for older horses.
The purses for three stakes were reduced. The Prairie Rose and Wild Rose for fillies and mares each went from $60,000 to $50,000 and were made overnight stakes. And the Prairie Meadows Handicap was dropped from $100,000 to $75,000, and in distance from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/16 miles.
"We took that money and spread it over some of the earlier prep races going short and long leading into the festival," Heldt said. "The last couple runnings of the Prairie Rose and Wild Rose have had small fields. It has been tough to fill that division, but we didn't want them to go away."
The Iowa Festival of Racing will be held Friday and Saturday, June 27-28, and again offer six stakes worth a combined $1,075,000. The event starts with the $100,000 Saylorville, $100,000 Iowa Distaff, and $125,000 Iowa Sprint June 27. A night later will be the Iowa Oaks, Iowa Derby, and Cornhusker.
"It's still the cornerstone of our stakes schedule," Heldt said. "Name trainers support it and we get some name jocks and horses that have won graded stakes races. It's important to our overall program."
There will be 13 stakes worth $965,000 for Iowa-breds, highlighted on Iowa Classic Night Aug. 2. The Iowa Classic, with seven Iowa-bred stakes each worth at least $75,000, will have its highest funding ever with a record $555,000 in purse money available plus nominating fees.