Iowa Festival of Racing Opens Tonight

Altoona, IA isn’t the most well-known destination for Thoroughbred Racing in North America but since the opening of Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in 1989, this coming weekend has been brining welcoming attention to the tracks Spring–Summer racing season.  Kicking off tonight with the featured 6 F Iowa Sprint Handicap, the Iowa Festival of Racing is set to conclude tomorrow night with a pair of 3 yr old stakes races and the feature Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap for 3 yr olds and up. 

The headliner for the upcoming weekend of night racing is Astrology, who will be racing in the G3 $250,000 Iowa Derby.  Last time out in the Preakness Stakes, the Steve Asmussen trained colt, ran gamely down the stretch before being outmatched by Shackleford and caught from behind by Animal Kingdom.  Astrology moves into Iowa from Churchill Downs and is primed to get back in the winners circle for the 1st time since winning the Grade 3 Iroquois at CD in October.  Since his last win, he hasn’t missed the board, notching 3 2nd places finishes and 1 3rd.  Mike Smith is scheduled to get back in the saddle for the third time aboard Astrology, the early Morning Line favorite at 9-5.

Another horse that deserves a look is Caleb’s Posse.  The third choice at 4-1 on the morning line, this colt was also an early Kentucky Derby contender.  After fizzling out in the Arkansas Derby, finishing 12th, the colt regrouped over a 7 week layoff before entering the Ohio Derby at Thistledowns on June 4th.  Trained by Donnie Von Hemel and ridden by Eusebio Razo Jr, Caleb’s Posse returned to form by winning the Ohio Derby. The win was his first since capturing the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn in January.

Coming in as the 2nd choice on the ML is Prayer for Relief at 7-2.  Lesser known but just as dangerous, this lightly raced colt is accompanied by two succesful figures on the racing scene.  Trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Zayat Stables, Prayer for Relief comes in after an allowance win at Hollywood Park in May.  Baffert looks for a repeat win after taking home the Iowa Derby in 2010 with Concord Point.  The biggest obstacle that stands in his way is how little his young horse has raced.  With only 4 lifetime starts, 3 in 2010 & 1 in ’11, this race will be his toughest test since the Real Quiet Stakes in 2010 where he finished 2nd to Comma to the Top.

Proceeding the 3-year-old boys on Saturday night will be the Iowa Oaks, Race 7.   The six-horse field presents in an interesting match up between two horses that have been getting almost all of the early attention.  At 6-5, Daisy Devine is your ML Favorite and Little Miss Holly is your 2nd choice at 3-1.  In March, Daisy Devine landed the biggest win of her early career, winning the G2 Fairgrounds Oaks.  It was that win that sent the Filly to the Kentucky Oaks where she couldn’t continue the hot streak and finished 7th.  Trained by Andrew McKeaver, Daisy enters her first race since the KY Oaks and appears to be fresh and ready to return to form with James Graham in the irons.

This will be the 3rd time this year that Little Miss Holly will get the chance to beat Daisy Devine.  In January, LMH ran a close 3rd behind DD in the Silver Bullet Day before not faring as well and finishing 8th in the Fairgrounds Oaks.  After that race Trainer Steve Margolis elected not to try for the KY Oaks and sent his Filly out for back to back allowance races.  After finishing 3rd, she bounced back in May with a win at Churchill Downs.  Jockey, Corey Lanerie earned his keep with that win and got the nod to stay aboard tomorrow night.

The main event, under the lights at Prairie Meadows, is highligted by last years winner.  Shadowbdancing retuns to Prairie Meadows and the G3 $300,000 Cornhusker.  This race also represents the first race of the 2011 racing seaon for the 6 yr old.  In tomorrow’s return to Iowa, the Terrel Gore trained colt, will look to get back into the money.  After last years Cornhusker win, the colt failed to hit the board in the final 2 races of the 2010 season.  His biggest threat is the ML favorite, Awesome Gem.  At 3-1 this colt is going to be tough to beat.  Trained by Craig Dollase and ridden by Robby Albarado, Awesome Gem comes into Saturday’s feature race fresh off a convicing victory in the Lonestar Handicap.  However, the colt needs to reverse a trend that hasn’t been snapped since his 2 yr old campaign.  Since winning his first race after breaking his maiden, Awesome Gem has not won back to back races.  The 8 yr old colt looks poised to do it on Saturday night and I’m not convinced anyone will spoil his chances.

Picks to Win: Daisey Devine, Caleb’s Posse, Awesome Gem

It should be a great Festival of Night Racing at Prairie Meadows.  Good luck to all horses, riders, trainers and connections.

Written by: Little Brink 

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