Prairie Meadows Race Report: Mr. Cornhusker

Published in the July 13 issue of The Blood-Horse
By Dan Johnson
Both Mr. John and owner Tom VanMeter are looking ahead after the July 6 $400,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III).

Trainer Elliott Walden equipped Mr. John with blinkers for the Cornhusker because the colt had run erratically in his first three races this year. The result was a more focused Mr. John and the 4-year-old's first stakes victory as he pulled away to win over Unshaded.

"This horse has always had a lot of potential," VanMeter said. "This is the first time that he's really lived up to it. The blinkers made a huge difference."

Mr. John showed his promise last year on the Triple Crown trail. He finished second in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) and was second in the Lexington (gr. II), though he was disqualified and placed eighth. Then he was entered in the Preakness (gr. I), where he ran 11th while chipping an ankle. He didn't run again until April.

"They had to take the chip out and he was off for a while," said David Fortner, Walden's assistant. "Now he's better than ever."

Mr. John won two allowance races in April, then was fourth to Congaree in the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III).

"He's always had all kinds of problems--swerving, drifting in," VanMeter said. "In the Lone Star race, we were laying second right behind Congaree; we were looking good. Then he went from second to eighth and started running again."

The victory was an early birthday gift for VanMeter, who turned 45 the next day. The veterinarian is a partner in Eaton Sales.

Mr. John, at 8-1, spurted away in the stretch under jockey Mark Guidry to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Euchre, the 2001 Cornhusker winner and 2-1 favorite in the 10-horse field, finished fifth.

Mr. John won for the fifth time in 10 career races. The $240,000 winner's share more than doubled his earnings to $416,312. He ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.97.

He sold shares of Mr. John to friends Michael and Lecie Lowenbaum and Rand and Joan Dankner, all of St. Louis. They took a shot when VanMeter told them how high he was on Mr. John.

"As a foal, this was one of the most beautiful animals you ever saw," VanMeter said. "He was always Elliott's favorite. He's always had lots and lots of potential. This is just the first time we've been able to get it done. I'm not sure he's a grade I horse, but I think he can be a really competitive horse here in the Midwest."

The Cornhusker capped Prairie Meadows' four-day racing festival of eight stakes worth a combined $1.3 million. The festival figures to be scaled back next year, as purses at Prairie Meadows drop 25%.

"My best guess is it'll be watered down somewhat," director of racing Derron Heldt said. "I'd hate to throw it completely out the window after we've built it up."

In other stakes action:

* The $150,000 Iowa Sprint featured a duel between Bonapaw and Men's Exclusive, but Sand Ridge, ridden by Ken Shino, surprised both horses.

The race was run while fireworks were going off to the east and south of Prairie Meadows, but they didn't faze Sand Ridge, who rallied from last to first to win by a nose over Boots On Sunday.

Sand Ridge, who is owned by Des Moines' Bill and Margie Peters and is trained by Don Von Hemel, was the lone local winner of the festival races. The 7-year-old, who races in the name of Thunderhead Farms, has won 14 of 40 races and has been Prairie Meadows' best sprinter the past two years, winning four stakes at the Altoona track.

* Lost At Sea, at 22-1, handed See How She Runs her first career loss in the $150,000 Iowa Oaks. See How She Runs, carrying top weight of 121 pounds, pressed Never Out's pace and dug in when Lost At Sea ran at her in the stretch.

From then on, it was a match race, with Peter Abruzzo, John Franks, and Jerry Hollendorfer's Lost At Sea on the outside finally getting her head in front at the wire.

* Easyfromthegitgo beat Pass Rush by a neck in the $250,000 Iowa Derby. Favored Danthebluegrassman was last in the five-horse field.

Easyfromthegitgo, owned by James Cassels and Bob Zollars, had traffic trouble in his last three races, getting trapped behind horses in the Lexington and Leonard Richards Stakes, and having to swing from the inside to the far outside in the Preakness, in which he finished fifth.

Shipping in to win a Prairie Meadows stakes race was nothing new to trainer Steve Asmussen. He has eight career stakes victories in Iowa, the most by a trainer based at another track.

(Chart, Equibase)