09/18/2002 11:00PM

Cowboy can lasso his fifth stakes

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Iowa-bred Cowboy Stuff and graded stakes winner Windward Passage head a field of 10 entered in Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Meadows Derby.

Cowboy Stuff, a son of Evansville Slew, has won 6 of 9 starts this year, including four stakes. Three of those stakes wins came against statebred company but Cowboy Stuff proved he could beat open rivals with a two-length gate-to-wire victory in the Round Table at Arlington on July 27 at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Prairie Meadows Derby.

After the Round Table, Cowboy Stuff set the pace to the stretch in the Oklahoma Derby before fading to finish sixth, beaten 3 3/4 lengths in the Grade 3 race. He rebounded with a 1 1/2-length score against Iowa-breds in the Iowa Breeders' Derby here Aug. 31.

Kelly Von Hemel is listed as the trainer of Cowboy Stuff for Saturday's race. His father, Don Von Hemel, co-owns the colt with Shelly Bates. Pat Valenzuela, who rode Cowboy Stuff to victory in the Round Table, is named in the Derby but is not expected to make the trip from California for the race.

Windward Passage is the only graded stakes winner in the field by virtue of his one-length win in the Grade 3 Rebel at Oaklawn Park last spring. The Rebel victory thrust Windward Passage onto the Triple Crown scene, but he has failed to win any of his five starts since the Rebel.

Trainer Steve Asmussen dropped Windward Passage into allowance company in his last start hoping for a confidence-building victory and he nearly got the job done, just missing by a nose in a one-mile race at Arlington on Sept. 2.

Windward Passage sports a career record of 2-2-3 from 11 starts. Donnie Meche has been named to ride for owner Team Valor but also is not expected to make the trip because he has a mount in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

Missme is a stakes winner here as he rallied for a half-length score in the Prairie Mile on June 15. Cowboy Stuff was among his victims that night, finishing third, beaten three-quarters of a length.

In his most recent start, Missme finished fifth, beaten just 2 1/4 lengths in the Oklahoma Derby after making a strong bid in midstretch. Chris Emigh will ride Missme.