This weekend, Picks and Ponderings takes a [figurative] road trip to Iowa for the Iowa Festival of Racing. The Festival has been stretched across three days this year, with two stakes races on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The focus of this preview will be Thursday's stakes races: the Saylorville, a listed sprint for distaff dirt sprinters, and the Iowa Oaks (GIII), for sophomore dirt route fillies.
Paul Mazur will take you through the next two days of the Iowa Festival of Racing. Friday's preview concentrates on the Iowa Distaff Stakes (Listed) and the Iowa Derby (GIII). Saturday's article focuses on the two races for older males: the Iowa Sprint Handicap (Listed) and the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII).
In addition to Iowa, Nicolle Neulist also takes a look at Sunday's United Nations Stakes (GI) at Monmouth.
Prairie Meadows provides a free live stream on their website, from which you can watch these and all races from the track.
Prairie Meadows: Thursday, June 30
Race 8: Saylorville Stakes, fillies and mares, three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 8:48pm CDT
Prairie Meadows is located in Altoona, Iowa: a suburb of Des Moines. The Saylorville Stakes, being run for the 22nd time this year, takes its name from another suburb of Des Moines, another suburb about eight miles west of Altoona. It began as a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares in 1995, but its purse has become far richer: the race offered a purse of just $8,600 when Carlaire won its inaugural running, but now it offers a $100,000 guaranteed purse.
A host of solid broodmares made waves in the Saylorville during their racing careers. Summer Mis (2004), the only Illinois-bred winner of this race, went on to produce stakes winner Summer's Empire and stakes-placed Summer Again. Miss Macy Sue (2007-2008) went on to produce one of 2015's handicap division stars, Liam's Map. Miss Marta, 2nd in the 1998 running of the Saylorville, went on to produce multiple graded stakes winner Mister Marti Gras, who is still going strong this year at age nine. Angel's Tearlet, third in the 1999 running, produced both multiple graded stakes winner Nates Mineshaft and multiple stakes winner Mr. Trieste.
SHE'SABREES will likely go off the chalk, even if the morning line maker sided with DR. FAGER'S GAL instead. Trainer Federico Villafranco has had an excellent year with older horses he has claimed, and though Illinois-bred Domain's Rap has gotten a bit more attention from out this way, SHE'SABREES fits that profile, too. The seven-year-old mare had a strong Oaklawn meet, mostly at a mile, but has been going six furlongs since being claimed by Villafranco four starts back. That includes a pair of wins at Prairie Meadows: an allowance win over 2015 Saylorville winner Ghost Locket, and then an easy win over DANCINANIMAUX in the Prairie Rose. Both of those came over slop, but even if the course turns up dry, SHE'SABREES is a solid 31-12-4-8 over fast dirt, and she ran a solid 2nd over fast Oaklawn dirt in N2X company first off the Villafranco claim. If she gets enough to chase, she will be tough to beat.
That said, the question is "if". DONITA'S RULER looks like the one-way speed in this field. Her recent form makes her tough to take here, particularly since there's someone in very nice form ready to keep her honest: top selection CIARAN'S PRIZE. This mare fired nicely in an allowance at Canterbury last month, her first start since November. Prompting a contested pace, she rebuffed all comers to post a half-length victory. She may need to take a step forward from that to win today, but why can't she? CIARAN'S PRIZE comes here second off the lay, trainer Joel Berndt wins 17% of the time second-off, and that last race was not a career top. If she can keep the pressure on DONITA'S RULER, CIARAN'S PRIZE can dig in and win this at a square price.
FIORETTI has been in some far more ambitious spots after her surprise victory in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (GII) last fall. However, her form lines suggest she is a listed-level horse who had one really good day, not a graded-level horse. She drops back to a more reasonable level here. FIORETTI has some nice versatility of pace, with strong races from the front end, and other good races from midpack. Expect an off-pace effort with DONITA'S RULER and CIARAN'S PRIZE in the field. If she can bounce back to the form she showed last summer, she has a chance to win this. If she cannot return to that here, though, perhaps there's a broodmare barn with her name on it.
#1 CIARAN'S PRIZE (6/1)
#4 SHE'SABREES (3/1)
#5 FIORETTI (7/2)
Longshot: A mare making her stakes debut at age seven may seem a little tardy, but #6 TARTY TO THE PARTY (15/1) has found just the right time to try this ambitious placement. She is a salty, consistent type: in the exacta for 23 of her 40 career starts, with a 20-7-6-2 line over six furlongs. TARTY TO THE PARTY had never raced at Prairie Meadows until this year, and she has taken to it beautifully. She won a salty open $20,000 claimer (over familiar Illinois mainstays Doc Galore and Gambler Five) in May, was re-claimed by trainer Ray Tracy, Jr., and has proceeded to run well twice in protected company there since. She has a win over an off track at Prairie, and a win over a dry track there -- suggesting that no matter how the 20% chance of rain shakes out, she should run her race. With some pace to chase here, a sharp race from TARTY TO THE PARTY could get her a share at long odds.
Race 9: Iowa Oaks (GIII), three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 9:21pm CDT
This year marks the eighteenth running of the Iowa Oaks as such. A one-mile race called the Iowa Oaks appeared in 1989, then flickered off the calendar. A three-year-old fillies' stakes at 1 1/16 miles returned in 1995 with the Heartland Oaks; that race was renamed the Iowa Oaks in 1999, and has been so ever since. The race first gained Grade III status in 2004, and has maintained it ever since. The most accomplished Iowa Oaks winner to date has been Unbridled Elaine (2001). The Dallas Stewart trainee won the Breeders' Cup Distaff (GI) later that year.
Several Iowa Oaks winners have also tasted graded glory at Arlington. Lost at Sea (2002) went on to win the Grade III Singapore Plate Stakes (later known as the Arlington Oaks) later that year, and Marietta (2007) also won the Arlington Oaks. Both Trip (2000) and Sarah Sis (2015) won the Chicago Handicap (GIII) the following year, at age four. One other local link to the Iowa Oaks came in 2003, when Wildwood Royal carried the familiar green and red silks of William Stiritz into the winners' circle.
The marquee horses coming into here are THRILLED and FAMILY TREE, the 1-2 finishers from the Plum Pretty Stakes at Sunland back in March. They are the class of the field, sure. But, as is often the case with these summertime sophomore races at this level, there are newer horses, improving horses, ready to assert themselves as new ones to watch. We'll discuss their merit (or lack thereof?) as defensive uses later, but we would rather focus on a couple of improving price horses who stand to be running late.
This race drew is plenty of speed from the likes of KISS N SCAT, MARQUEE MISS, EMMZY, PUT DA BLAME ON ME, and READY TO CONFESS. The pace looks to set up quick, just what BONITA CAT needs. She finished second in the Panthers, the local prep, catching everyone but wire-to-wire winner Battle Girl. There should be a bit more battle on the front end this time out, giving her more of a target. BONITA CAT's late pace shines in this field, and her performance through the spring suggests she is a three-year-old on the improve. With sharp local rider Alex Birzer back in the irons here, this daughter of Tale of the Cat has a chance to surprise everyone (except for loyal Picks and Ponderings readers) come Thursday.
ALOTTA SKIRT is another who is improving at just the right time. It took her six tries to break her maiden, but she did so at this distance at Keeneland back in April. She followed that up with an N1X victory at Churchill, going the same distance and beating older. Both of those came with Corey Lanerie aboard; Lanerie returns here. This will be ALOTTA SKIRT's stakes debut, and she will have to take a step up from her last two races to win the spoils here. However, her running style should have her set midpack, and well spotted to run down the front-end gas.
As mentioned above, THRILLED and FAMILY TREE are the more proven ones here. THRILLED is the likely favourite, and it would be no surprise to see her win this. She finished a disappointing third on Tapeta last out, but some of her best form of her career has come on dirt. She has a win at the distance, as well. On pace, she will not be too far off the speed, but her dependable stalking style suggests she should be able to stay just out of the fracas. To her credit, FAMILY TREE has shown some off-pace form in her back lines. But, her recent form has been on the front end, and she is marooned in the far outside post. THRILLED is a bit more attractive among the proven class horses.
#5 BONITA CAT (12/1)
#7 ALOTTA SKIRT (10/1)
#2 THRILLED (5/2)
Longshot: #6 READY TO CONFESS (12/1) will be forward, but has shown an ability to duel, duel some more, and have enough to dig in late. Last out, she also showed that she can sit just off. She got the best of frontrunning FAMILY TREE in her last-out allowance victory. That stalking gear can only help READY TO CONFESS today. Furthermore, that came with rider Joe Rocco aboard; Rocco returns today. The distance is no question, as this filly has two wins and a third-place finish going a mile and a sixteenth. She also comes in second off a freshening. If READY TO CONFESS takes a step forward from her allowance win last out, she has a chance for her first stakes victory at a nice price.
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