ALTOONA, IA – The Iowa Festival of Racing continues tonight with three graded stakes on tap at Prairie Meadows. The Iowa Oaks and Derby will e contested at a mile and sixteenth while the Cornhusker goes a mile and an eighth.
The $200,000 Iowa Oaks (Grade 3) leads off the stakes action featuring eight closely matched 3-year old fillies.
Sarah Sis wired a field of 3-year old fillies in the Panthers last out, bouncing back from a dismal Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks where she was eased and vanned off after faltering badly. Though she’s shown a lot of speed, her best performance was probably in the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn where she stalked the early pace, surged to the lead and held off challengers in a very professional effort. Her versatility should come in handy for jockey Felix Julio.
Donnie Von Hemel trainee, Paige, is making her second start of the season – her first on dirt – in the Oaks. She showed a lot of ability as a 2-year old, closing sharply in Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland to close out her season. Her grass, and seasonal, debut in a Churchill allowance was a solid second with only five furlongs to work with. She should welcome the extra distance and, back on dirt in her second start after the layoff, Paige could be a real sleeper in here and should be closing late.
If you drop her bookended turf attempts, her dirt form puts Pangburn in the middle of the action. That said, she seems to have found trouble in every one of her starts. Once or twice I can overlook, but so many occurrences makes me wonder about her ability to stay out of trouble.
A trio of “Sweets” round out the contenders in the Oaks.
Bourbonette Oaks runner up Sweet Success is coming in off of a dominating win in a Churchill allowance. She’s stretching out for the Oaks and should be part of a contentious early pace.
Sweet Opportunity was second to Sarah Sis in the Panthers and Luis Quinones should have her just off the pace with an opportunity late.
Sweetgrass is coming in off of a subpar effort in the Black Eyed Susan (Grade 2). If you can draw a line through that race, she is still stepping up off of two in a row – her maiden breaker and a Keeneland allowance.
The 3-year old colts and gelding step up next in the $250,000 Grade 3 Iowa Derby.
Toby Keith’s Dream Walkin Farms’ homebred Hillbilly Royalty comes off a very professional win in the Prairie Mile beating several in this field in the process. He kept very close to the pace-setter and just went on by when asked. He adds a sixteenth of a mile tonight but has won over the distance at Oaklawn in his 3-year old debut.
Runner up in the Mile, Paid Admission, may be the one to watch as the field stretches out another 16th of a mile. In the Prairie Mile he came from well off the pace and ran out of real estate. With enough early speed in the race and stalkers to keep them honest, this race could shape up very nicely for jockey Ramon Vazquez, hero of night one of the Festival, where he won two of the three stakes.
If Paid Admission is going to pull the mild upset, he likely will need to be a bit closer to the pace since deep closers were having a rough time of it last night. Heavily favored Flashy American fell just short of the stalking Diva’s Diamond in the Distaff from well off the pace and each stakes winner was on or near the lead.
Allied Air Raid is another than may have found the confines of a mile too short for his liking in the Prairie Mile. Third in the Mile, he was coming off a hard fought win on the pace at a mile and sixteenth at Oaklawn. That optional claimer wasn’t nearly as tough at the Mile or the make up of this Iowa Derby, but does show he can get the distance while pressured. The quick track could play into his strength.
The finale is the $300,000 Cornhusker Stakes features a very tough field of older horses including defending champion Carve. The very consistent son of First Samurai has a pair of seconds in the Oaklawn and Lone Star Park Handicaps and will look to get back into the winners’ circle for the first time since the 5th Season Stakes in January.
Another very consistent contender is Golden Lad. The Todd Pletcher trainee has a style similar to Carve and is trying to following up a devastating performance in the Mountainview at Penn National where he opened up a five length lead through the turn for home and maintained it down the lane to win in a romp.
Tapiture has had a hard time finding the winners’ circle lately. The once dominant colt has only missed the board once since his last victory five starts ago in the 2014 West Virginia Derby and seems to have been passed by his classmates. While there is no Goldencents in this field, Carve has finished well ahead of him in his last two starts.
Page McKinney may be a somewhat overlooked contender. He finished a solid second to Commissioner in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special and 3rd behind Moreno and Imperative in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic. This spot will be a bit lighter for him but his lack of early pace could mean that his rally may end up a few lengths short.
We’ll be there tonight bringing you updates via Twitter (@mwpaddockreport) and wrapping up all the action with plenty of pictures, of course, later in the weekend right here.