The trifecta looks solid heading into the $300,000 race that is the crown jewel of the Iowa track's three-day Festival of Racing.
The 4-year-old Dolphus has elevated his game this spring, since he switched from the barn of Joe Sharp to Jimmy Jerkens. In his last two starts, he was a handy winner over optional-claiming allowance company at Aqueduct Racetrack in late April, then just missed by a neck to multiple grade 1 winner Shaman Ghost (also trained by Jerkens) in the May 19 Pimlico Special Handicap (G3). Both efforts, with Rajiv Maragh up, have come on the lead, tactics he figures to use in Iowa when he breaks from post 3.
The son of Lookin At Lucky has drawn a loyal following throughout his 11-race career as a half brother to Horse of the Year and Hall of Fame member Rachel Alexandra. Both are out of McGehee's Lotta Kim, by Roar. Owned earlier in her racing career by Dolphus Morrison, Rachel Alexandra went on to win the 2009 BlackBerry Preakness Stakes (G1), Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1), and Woodward Stakes (G1) against males.
Dolphus still has a way to go without a stakes win to his ledger, but the Cornhusker allows him his best shot to date despite a nine-horse field that is full of tested challengers at the grade 3 level.
On the wood is C.R. Trout's Shotgun Kowboy, who missed by a neck in last year's nine-furlong Cornhusker to Smack Smack. In Shotgun Kowboy's last three tries, he finished behind Mor Spirit twice—Mor Spirit won the June 10 Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park—and was behind Danzing Candy and Texas Chrome last time out in the Lone Star Park Handicap (G3). Danzing Candy came back to win last weekend's San Carlos Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park and Texas Chrome, a winner of two Derbys last year, drew outside in the Cornhusker.
After he finished second in last year's Iowa Derby (G3) at Prairie Meadows, Texas Chrome landed Louisiana Downs' Super Derby (G3) and Remington Park's Oklahoma Derby (G3) with stalking tactics. A trip to the Las Vegas Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) was fruitless, but the Texas-bred son of Grasshopper seemed to be rounding to better form of late at Lone Star Park—although last time out June 17 he ran sixth in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Third behind Dolphus in the Pimlico Special was David Ross' Conquest Windycity. He, too, is seeking his first stakes victory. Locally, Code West has four trips around Prairie Meadows and a pair of wins. Fifth in last year's Cornhusker, he comes into the 2017 version off an easy optional-claiming allowance victory June 16. Richard Keith's American Dubai topped Code West in the May 29 Jim Rassmussen Memorial Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, where he finished second.
The Cornhusker was first run in 1966 at the old Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha, Neb., which closed in 1995. The race has been run at Prairie Meadows since 1996.