Sometimes (as seen from Belmont Stakes weekend) at "Picks & Ponderings", we take a road trip to a bigger day of racing that's beyond Chicago. Both Nicolle and I take separate road trips this weekend. While she's heading to the West Coast to Santa Anita, I'm heading to Iowa.
"Picks & Ponderings" is here to provide BONUS handicapping coverage of the Iowa Festival of Racing and their Saturday night card. There are three features at the dirt-only oval in Altoona, Iowa near Des Moines on the Saturday night card. The June 28 card gets the focus of this program, and contains three Grade Three stakes: the $200,000 Iowa Oaks, the $250,000 Iowa Derby, and the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap. Each of those races gets a breakdown from this corner. Each race is at two turns on the dirt as well. And the three races come in a row, so stringing together a pick three ticket won't take a lot of effort.
Prairie Meadows -- Race 7 -- G3 Iowa Oaks --1 1/16 miles on dirt -- post time 9:11 pm CT
Formerly known as the Heartland Oaks, the race was graded in 2004. Past winners include Unbridled Elaine, who annexed both this race and the Breeders' Cup Distaff in 2001.
The local prep to this race is the Panthers Stakes, and it was won by SUGAR SHOCK, already a Grade Three winner by virtue of winning the Fantasy at Oaklawn Park in April. After winning the Fantasy she was naturally placed into the Kentucky Oaks field and was one of the many to run into the sophomore filly buzzsaw that is Untappable. Shipped back to a more realistic spot, she won the Panthers at 1-5. While she went wire-to-wire in the Fantasy and last out, it's worth noting she could rate and be forwardly placed in the G3 Honeybee (the prep to the Fantasy, also at Oaklawn), pulling back a touch and not needing the lead. Channing Hill comes in from Chicago to ride. The Dilschneider-Claiborne owner-breeder combination that brought you Blame and a bunch of other tersely named horses come to Iowa with SIZE, trained by Bill Mott. SIZE may have only cleared the first level allowance condition two back, but Mott thought it wise to put this one in a stakes and not a twice-other-than or thrice-other-than allowance race. It was a minor stakes at Belmont, where she ran a credible second. She hasn't been two turns yet, as all her races have been at six furlongs. However, she stretches out and the pedigree (by First Samurai out of a Pulpit mare) is not an issue for two turns. She could be on the engine here in the Iowa Oaks, and that's not a bad place to be in Iowa. After an overly ambitious run in the Preakness against males, RIA ANTONIA drops back in against her own gender and gets away from Untappable, who dusted her in a Fair Grounds Oaks prep and the Kentucky Oaks. It's very possible that her name recognition makes her odds drop, as people know her from big races on big days, and she did win the 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies via disqualification. However, she hasn't won since last November and it's possible the rest of the crop caught up to her. But she does get a chance to prove she is more than a fortunate horse and will, as a closer, be able to rally into a pace. Upgrade this one if the track comes up wet.
#5 SUGAR SHOCK (5/2)
#3 SIZE (6/1)
#4 RIA ANTONIA (5/1)
Longshot: Sometimes these big stakes days at tracks see a local horse that runs its eyeballs out getting a piece of the pie. #9 DREAM SPINNER (8/1) fits this role to a tee. She pressed SUGAR SHOCK and was second to her in the local prep, and was quick enough and tactical enough to graduate by a big margin. She's made two starts over this oval, both in minor stakes, both hitting the board. In a field where there's a logical favorite and a name horse that will take money, DREAM SPINNER could be a square price and last out DREAM SPINNER was in the same frame of reference as SUGAR SHOCK.
Prairie Meadows -- Race 8 -- G3 Iowa Derby -- 1 1/16 miles on dirt -- post time 9:43 pm CT
Past winners of the Iowa Derby include eventual Dubai World Cup winner Captain Steve (2000) and popular two-year-old champion Hansen (2012).
Call me a homer, but I'm going with the Chicago shipper here in I GOT IT ALL, who goes first time two turns. I'm trying to beat the favorites - VICAR'S IN TROUBLE and EMBELLISHING BOB. I'll use the former defensively and not use the latter, but take I GOT IT ALL, who rallied three wide going a one-turn mile to take down the Springfield Stakes. It was the same move he used in the Land of Lincoln, but whereas the Hawthorne dirt favored outside runners and I GOT IT ALL was on the outside, the Arlington polytrack tends to play to inside paths and I GOT IT ALL was on the outside, and won for fun. Regular rider E. Cosme comes along on this runner, who gets first time two turns in this spot. Put ina bullet work before shipping west. I'll defensively use VICAR'S IN TROUBLE as his outside box makes him an early pace play. He did have an excuse for his Derby, being stuck in the "Death Post", and he stumbled at the top of the lane in the in the Risen Star. Yet, he was allowed to walk the dog and get a free pass in the Louisiana Derby. If he runs back to his best races he makes sense, but it's possible that he got too many things right in the Louisiana Derby and Lecomte and they might not go that way this time. JESSICA'S STAR won the local prep for this race, the Prairie Mile over fellow entrant SMACK SMACK last out going a two-turn mile. A winner two back at Churchill going seven furlongs, he has never been worse than third in five career outs and gets David Mello to ride, who is hitting at a solid percentage locally. Stretches out an extra furlong, but the pedigree is not an issue in that department. Nor are two maintenance works at Churchill after winning the local prep.
#6 I GOT IT ALL (10/1)
#8 VICAR'S IN TROUBLE (3/1)
#6 JESSICA'S STAR (6/1)
Longshot: Be sure to use this runner more if it's wet, but it's likable if dry and that's #4 SMACK SMACK (12/1). Bred by the nom de course of country singer Toby Keith, this runner has wintered at Remington and Oaklawn and caught closer-favoring wet tracks at Prairie and could mount a rally. On a dry track that rally might be squished, or perhaps flattered if there's a total pace meltdown. Three wins in five tries over the local surface and he won a six-figure stakes at seven panels in the fall in Oklahoma. Not often you get trainer Don Von Hemel at these odds, but he can pop a longshot as good as anyone.
Prairie Meadows -- Race 9 -- G3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap -- 1 1/8 miles on dirt -- post time 10:15 pm CT
Formerly held at Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack in Nebraska, the Cornhusker boasts a honor roll that includes Preakness winners like Gate Dancer (1985), Horses of the Year like Black Tie Affair (1991), Breeders Cup Classic winners like Fort Larned (2012) and Chicago-based runners like Lord of the Game (2005) and Shadowbdancing (2010).
Even though GROUND TRANSPORT is a front running type, he can beat back a duel as he did in the Drosselmeyer two back at Belmont Park. Perhaps twelve furlongs was too far in the G2 Brooklyn, and so he comes to a mile and an eighth, which he won at three back in Maryland. Ever since going to New Orleans this past winter, he's been in form clicking off steady races in succession, the only clunkers being in the G3 Mineshaft when on the outside and wide all the way around and the aforementioned G2 Brooklyn. Good maintenance work over the Arlington polytrack after the Brooklyn shows he hasn't lost the luster and he meets a Cornhusker field that doesn't have any heavy hitters. Proven at the stakes level already. COIN BROKER ships in for Dale Romans, who brought Silver Max in last year and got a show award for his runner. COIN BROKER was third last time in the G2 Alysheba to Moonshine Mullin, who later annexed the G1 Stephen Foster. While he's only cleared the first level allowance condition (doing it two back), perhaps this step back to a G3 may be a smart move. Both his wins have come at Gulfstream, a dirt surface similar to today's and the win two back was three wide at a mile and a sixteenth - not the easiest thing to do. GOLDEN TICKET was second ahead of COIN BROKER in the G2 Alysheba. It appears GOLDEN TICKET may be a closing miler based on the BC Dirt Mile and Gulfstream Park Handicap behind Palace Malice, but instead he's more of a clunk up type who sometimes can clunk up for a minor award, sometimes not. While he did win a ten furlong race over this surface last year, he'll get an honest pace from GROUND TRANSPORT and RIGHT TO VOTE should he be taken back off the pace.
#6 GROUND TRANSPORT (4/1)
#5 COIN BROKER (5/1)
#8 GOLDEN TICKET (3/1)
Longshot: It may be the oldest trick in the book, but the "uncoupled entry" magic is back for the squillionth time. #3 BELLARMINE (8/1) comes in to the Cornhusker after clearing the thrice-other-than allowance at Churchill last time out and three back was a winner at Keeneland over today's distance. Both times Alan Garcia was aboard and he's the assigned pilot in this spot. While he went wire to wire three back, he pressed forwardly last time out, and that kind of forward - but not dead on the lead- style seems to work well in Iowa races. McPeek has two in here, this one and GOLDEN TICKET, and this one will certainly be the longer of the prices on the tote.
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