05/14/2003 11:00PM

Cowboy Stuff cuts back to best distance

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ALTOONA, Iowa - Cowboy Stuff will be a heavy favorite facing six rivals in Saturday's $60,000 John Wayne Stakes for Iowa-bred colts and geldings at Prairie Meadows.

Cowboy Stuff, a 4-year-old son of Evansville Slew trained by Don Von Hemel, cuts back to a sprint in the six-furlong John Wayne after dueling through a fast pace and finishing second, beaten a length, as the 4-5 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile, $100,000 Bosselman Handicap at Fonner Park on April 26.

That defeat followed two wins in allowance company at Oaklawn this spring. Both of those wins came at Saturday's distance, at which Cowboy Stuff has won 5 of 7 lifetime starts.

The return to statebred competition is another major plus for Cowboy Stuff. In 2002 Cowboy Stuff was unbeaten in three starts against Iowa-breds, with all three victories coming in stakes. Overall, Cowboy Stuff sports a record of 9-3-2 from 16 starts, good for $355,340 in earnings for his owner-breeders, Shelly Bates and Don Von Hemel. Terry Thompson has a return ride in the John Wayne.

The River Ridge Ranch entry of Take Me Up and Le Numerous look like the main danger to Cowboy Stuff.

Take Me Up makes his 2003 debut after winning 3 of 9 starts last year, including the Ralph Hayes here. In their only head-to-head meeting last year, Cowboy Stuff held off Take Me Up by three-quarters of a length to win the 1 1/16-mile Cyclones here.

Le Numerous should be part of a hot early pace in the John Wayne. He finished seventh in open company after pressing the pace and racing wide in the 5 1/2-furlong Prairie Express here two weeks ago. Before that start, the 5-year-old gelding Le Numerous was a gate-to-wire winner in allowance company here at one mile on April 22.