07/06/2017 9:16AM

Dolphus at top of game for Prairie Meadows Cornhusker

Barbara D. Livingston
Dolphus (left) finishes second to Shaman Ghost in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special.

Jimmy Jerkens has run 3,602 horses during his training career, and one can count on one hand the number who have started outside the East Coast, California, and Kentucky.

Iowa? That does not seem like Jerkens territory, but with leading older dirt horse Shaman Ghost staying home for the $750,000 Suburban on Saturday at Belmont, Jerkens has sent Dolphus out on the road for the Grade 3, $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap.

Dolphus looks like the likely favorite and horse to beat Saturday night in the Cornhusker, a 1 1/8-mile dirt race that drew a field of nine. Dolphus carries 118 pounds, making him the co-highweight along with Iron Fist. The Cornhusker, run at Ak-Sar-Ben from 1966 through that Nebraska track’s demise in 1995, is the last of nine races on a card that starts at 4 p.m. Central and includes the $100,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap.

Post time for the Cornhusker, a race won during the Prairie Meadows era by such luminaries as Fort Larned and Roses in May, is 7:50.

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As a half-brother to the legendary Rachel Alexandra, Dolphus always has carried a reputation, and his name was bandied about as a Triple Crown hope when he won his career debut as a 2-year-old in November 2015 at Fair Grounds. Dolphus, racing for trainer Joe Sharp, made three starts that winter and had a setback.

He returned during the 2016 Saratoga meet, made one start there, followed by one each at Delaware and Keeneland, and generally looked during his first six starts like the relative of a graded-stakes horse, not one himself.

But Dolphus, with blinkers added, woke up last December in a sloppy, off-the-turf, seven-furlong race at Gulfstream Park, winning by more than nine lengths and putting up a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. A little more than a month later, Dolphus regressed badly, finishing ninth in the Hal’s Hope Stakes at Gulfstream, after which owner Dede McGehee, who bred Dolphus under the banner of her Heaven Trees Farm, transferred the colt to Jerkens.

“When I first got him, he was a three-other-than, and I said, ‘Let me see if he can take to training long,’ ” said Jerkens. “I worked him a couple nice seven furlongs and a mile in Florida and sent him to New York.”

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In March, Dolphus finished fourth at Aqueduct in the $125,000 Stymie but was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths after contesting a strong pace in a closer-dominated race. While Jerkens saw Dolphus as a long-winded two-turn front-runner, he took advantage of a one-turn-mile, third-level allowance race April 23 at Aqueduct, got Dolphus a solid win, then sent him to face stablemate Shaman Ghost in the Pimlico Special. There, Dolphus set the pace and fought Shaman Ghost all the way to the wire, finishing second by a half-length.

“He seems to like to train long and run long,” Jerkens said. “He’s really taken to that, where he can use his speed to better advantage than at shorter distances.”

Dolphus and jockey Rajiv Maragh face a serious pace rival drawn to their outside, American Dubai. Hawaakom is one horse who could benefit from a prolonged pace battle.

Hawaakom, sixth in the 2016 Cornhusker, ran second to Gun Runner in the Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn in February and then ran well below his best in the New Orleans Handicap. In his last race, Hawaakom finished fourth in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill, won by Gun Runner, and with better luck, he might have been second. Hawaakom was making steady homestretch progress along the rail when Stanford, Breaking Lucky, and Honorable Duty all drifted in, causing Miguel Mena to take up on Hawaakom and come around horses in the final furlong.

“I was disappointed he didn’t run second,” said trainer and majority owner Wes Hawley. “He’s trained very good since the Foster. He could improve.”

Shotgun Kowboy has a chance at a high placing. He was a narrowly beaten second in this race last year, went through a form trough this spring, and probably wasn’t at his best when beaten eight lengths by Danzing Candy over a muddy strip May 28 in the Lone Star Park Handicap.

Texas Chrome was the runner-up in the Iowa Derby a year ago and was in good form while finishing second behind Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit this spring at Lone Star. But he was a decidedly dull sixth in the Stephen Foster and is somewhat suspect at a distance as far as nine furlongs against good competition.

And Dolphus does look like good competition.

◗ The Iowa Sprint Handicap has been won by really fast horses like Majesticperfection, Gentlemen’s Bet, and Delaunay, but this is a down year for the race in terms of field size and quality. The six-furlong race drew a field of six and will have Wings Locked Up and Union Jackson at the head of the betting.

Union Jackson got hooked and cooked while racing inside on a fast pace in the Grade 3 Aristides Stakes at Churchill last out but is in line for a good trip from an outside draw Saturday. He carries 119 pounds, the same as Wings Locked Up, the winner of the Ed Skinner Memorial on May 27 at Prairie Meadows.