05/12/2004 11:00PM

Cowboy Stuff back in John Wayne

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ALTOONA, Iowa - It only seems fitting that a horse named Cowboy Stuff heads the field in the John Wayne Stakes on Saturday night at Prairie Meadows.

Cowboy Stuff figures as a prohibitive favorite in the $60,000 John Wayne, a six-furlong event for Iowa-bred colts and geldings, just as he was last year, when he finished second behind Take Me Up at odds of 2-5.

After that May 17 race, Cowboy Stuff went to the sidelines and did not return until Feb. 4, when he defeated allowance company at Oaklawn Park. Following two losses at Oaklawn, Cowboy Stuff returned to the statebred ranks here April 24 and scored a 2 3/4-length victory in a $39,760 allowance contest run over a sloppy track.

Overall, Cowboy Stuff sports a record of 11-4-3 from 21 career starts and earnings of $419,936 for Don Von Hemel, who bred Cowboy Stuff and co-owns him with Shelly Bates. Cowboy Stuff's regular rider, Terry Thompson, will be in the saddle again Saturday.

Although the John Wayne is Cowboy Stuff's race to lose, several could make a race of it, including Take Me Up.

In addition to the John Wayne, Take Me Up won two other statebred stakes last year on his way to being named the 2003 older Iowa-bred male of the year for trainer Paul Pearson.

In his only start of 2004, Take Me Up ran evenly to finish third, beaten 5 1/2 lengths by Cowboy Stuff in the April 24 allowance race. Take Me Up figures to move forward off that effort and could benefit from a hot pace Saturday. Glenn Corbett picks up the mount aboard Take Me Up in the John Wayne.

Country Warrior, a winner of a three-other-than allowance here against open company April 19, is a gate-to-wire threat for trainer Dick Clark and jockey Perry Compton.