For three (this year instead of the usual two) nights, Prairie Meadows puts on its Iowa Festival of Racing. The Friday night on the festival program features two stake while the Thursday program a night before features two and the Saturday night program features two. Night two, the Friday program, is the focus of this Picks & Ponderings analysis. The races analyzed are the $100,000 Iowa Distaff and the $250,000 Grade Three Iowa Derby.
Nicolle Neulist takes you through the first day, Thursday, of the Iowa Festival. Paul Mazur will take you through the Friday piece discussed herein and the Saturday card during the Iowa Festival of Racing. 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 previews Sunday’s United Nations Stakes (G1) at Monmouth.
Prairie Meadows provides a free live stream on their website, from which you can watch these and all races from the track. All races in this preview are scheduled for Friday July 1.
Prairie Meadows — Race 8 — Iowa Distaff Stakes — One and one-sixteenth miles on dirt — post time 8:48 pm CT
Typically “distaff” means “race for older females”, so it makes sense a race for fillies and mares three years old and upward that’s contested in Iowa is called the Iowa Distaff. They’ll run the Iowa Distaff for the seventeenth time this year. Two with local ties – G3 Sixty Sails winner Flashy American (2013) and Illinois-bred Diva’s Diamond (2014, 2015) have taken down the Iowa Distaff. Yet these aren’t the first with a tie to Chicago to take down this race one state to the west. Even further back, William Stiritz was the owner and Wildwood Royal was the heroine (2004) on another Chicago-tied horse. It’s worth noting Wildwood Royal is also among the Iowa Oaks – Iowa Distaff winners club, having won stakes at ages three and four at Prairie Meadows.
Let’s root for the home team (at least in terms of Prairie Meadows) with Danny Caldwell’s RIBBON OF DARKNESS, who won a local prep last time out and goes second off a short layoff. After holding form at Remington and Oaklawn over the winter, she bit off more than she could chew in races like the Pippin and the G3 Bayakoa down at Oaklawn against the likes of Streamline and Call Pat. Pair her win last out in the $45K stakes with an additional second over the oval, along with her ability to sit close to the pace on a fast track – an asset over the Altoona oval that can play like a carousel. Ramon Vazquez has the call for Federico Villafranco – a team that’s in the trifecta nearly seventy percent of the time in the last two months. She’s the choice, wet or dry. The out-of-town horse that is the properly assigned the morning line favorite is SUPER MAJESTY, who set the pace last time in the G3 DuPont during Preakness week. Prairie Meadows has the reputation of being – when dry – an inside speed track and as such, a horse that set the pace going nine panels and was around at the end will get play at Prairie Meadows. Even more so, perhaps, based on high-profile out of town connections. But this space questions the passing gear on SUPER MAJESTY. While the DuPont runner-up came back to win a listed stakes, the winner threw a clunker two weeks back on Foster night at Churchill. She may need to be the speed of the speed – and that’s no guarantee with GHOST LOCKET in the field. Perhaps the west coast tracks play most similarly to Prairie, and that makes out-of-towner ALL STAR BUB worth a look. Third at 24-1 last time in the G3 Adoration behind Beholder, she’s coming of a short layoff. Moreover, she doesn’t get demerits for being behind a G1W against males. She’s been trolling around and perhaps stuck in neutral in the N2X condition. A change of scenery might help, but so would GHOST LOCKET and SUPER MAJESTY dueling on the front end. ALL STAR BUB is among the choices wet or dry.
Prairie Meadows is an oval where the track profile does a complete reversal in the wet. The inside speed favoring oval turns to a wide rallying closer’s paradise in the slop. While analysis below and selections above are for the dry (with notes on who is wet-track approved), tread carefully using SUPER MAJESTY on a wet track.
#9 RIBBON OF DARKNESS (6/1)
#1 SUPER MAJESTY (5/2)
#6 ALL STAR BUB (8/1)
Longshot: #2 HERO ON SATURDAY (20/1) won’t get the hunch bet money – this is, of course, a Friday race. But HERO ON SATURDAY – a Tom Baxter-owned and David Anderson-trained production, exits a third going short and stretches back to two turns. That two-turn success was fine at Fonner going six panels as Fonner is a bull-ring. Conventional two-turn form is there: she did win pressing a pace on slop last year at Prairie and aside from a sixth in the G3 Iowa Oaks last year hasn’t missed the superfecta. David Mello has the call on a runner you can use wet or dry.
Prairie Meadows — Race 9 — G3 Iowa Derby — One and one-sixteenth miles on dirt — post time 9:21 pm CT
While the racing during the Iowa Festival of Racing is colored with graded quality, the naming of the stakes is relatively black-and-white. What began in England with the Epsom Derby and imported to America as the Kentucky Derby has been extended to other states. In short, three-year-olds only. The Iowa Derby, like the Indiana Derby (and at times, the Illinois Derby), functions as one of the second-level midwest state Derbies that serve a duel function in the racing world. Its position between the Triple Crown season and the Haskell/Travers has it luring horses who weren’t ready or weren’t good enough for the bright lights of the Triple Crown but who were seeking rich prizes and graded stakes fame. 2001 Dubai World Cup winner Captain Steve (2000) and 2011 Champion two-year-old Hansen (2012) stand as the most famous Iowa Derby winners.
Hansen – him of the blue tail and squishy toys – totally controls the 2012 Iowa Derby. Video courtesy Youtube.
AMERICAN FREEDOM was 13/10 last time in the Sir Barton, and that’s a fair price in this event. Beyond TEXAS CHROME and SYNCHRONY, he encounters a field eligible for a first-level allowance. Beyond TEXAS CHROME, he’s the only one with a wanting for the front end. AMERICAN FREEDOM is the ideal horse for an oval like this: he’s speed, but he has gameness and won’t just flash and fade. He showed his grit in the Sir Barton Stakes on Preakness Day. One must hope Rafael Bejerano does not get cute and just guns the Bob Baffert trainee to the lead. Expect even money for a horse who – if he breaks on top – should roll. The odds are present as you are wagering on the break and the assertion from the bell. He’s your choice wet (remember those Preakness Day rains?) or dry. TEXAS CHROME may not be related to California Chrome, but he sure looked like it two back in a restricted stakes at Lone Star. The stakes win was the first time two turns for him. Tried last time against Gun Runner in the G3 Matt Winn, he ran evenly to collect third place money. He’s not facing a Gun Runner that is a complete cinch (could Bejerano flub up the ride?) this time around and as such he’s got a chance. Let’s give LOOKIN FOR A KISS a second try going two turns. His first race around two turns was the G1 Blue Grass and though that prep has graded out badly, he did run evenly and decently in the G3 Pat Day Mile at one turn chasing fast fractions. Maybe a more moderate tempo in this event will put him near the lead and in a better stalking trip.
Prairie Meadows is an oval where the track profile does a complete reversal in the wet. The inside speed favoring oval turns to a wide rallying closer’s paradise in the slop. While analysis below and selections above are for the dry (with notes on who is wet-track approved), keep an eye on SYNCHRONY should it get wet.
#4 AMERICAN FREEDOM (5/2)
#3 TEXAS CHROME (2/1)
#1 LOOKIN FOR A KISS (8/1)
Longshot: Sometimes it’s not easy making the jump from state-bred stakes to open stakes, but #2 CATFISH CREEK (15/1) did not embarrass himself last time in the Prairie Mile. We’ve said how Prairie Meadows can be a carousel when it’s dry, but he rallied off semi-slow splits to get second in that $65K stakes that serves as the local feeder. CATFISH CREEK may still be eligible for an open N1X as he won an Oklahoma-bred stakes two back, but his graduation in the slop second-out shows that we can use this runner whether fast or sloppy. The fact he did his rally in a race where AMERICAN FREEDOM might slow the front tempo to a crawl shouldn’t be an issue. Third off the layoff is in play, and trainer Scott Young hits at 29% wins in this scenario. Belen Quinonez will dawn Shawn Schabel’s silks on this longshot.
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