04/16/2015 11:10AM

Iowa Festival of Racing highlights 67-day Prairie Meadows meet

Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Jockey David Mello won a record 100 races at Prairie Meadows in 2014.

ALTOONA, Iowa – Prairie Meadows kicks off its 26th Thoroughbred racing meet, offering more than $15 million in total purses, with a nine-race card that gets under way Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Central.

Consisting of 67 dates, the scheduling is similar to recent years aside from a two-day first week followed by a three-day second week.

Starting the weekend of the May 2 Kentucky Derby, the track will resume its usual Thursday-Sunday cards. The track also will race on Memorial Day, May 25, and will add a pair of Wednesday evening cards July 15 and Aug. 5.

The jockeys’ race has an intriguing look as defending champ David Mello, who notched a record 100 wins here in 2014, will be challenged by former titleholders Alex Birzer, Terry Thompson, and Cindy Murphy in addition to the track’s all-time leading jockey, Glenn Corbett.

However, Mello’s sternest rival might be Ramon A. Vazquez, who won 51 races at the recently completed Oaklawn Park meet when finishing a close second behind Ricardo Santana Jr.

Murphy, a popular Iowa native who won the first race held here March 1, 1989, and has won 1,833 races in her career, makes her return to the saddle after a lengthy hiatus.

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Ray Tracy, who won last year’s training title with 49 wins, has been getting his stock ready here since the main track opened March 31.

Trainer Chris Richard, whose large stable consists of 22 runners owned by 11-time leading owner Maggi Moss, has shipped in from Oaklawn along with Federico Villafranco, who won 41 races last year for the meet’s leading owner, Danny Caldwell.

Tim Martin, who conditioned 38 winners here in 2014, has added the typically strong stable of Iowa-breds owned by River Ridge Ranch to his string.

Trainers Jim Meyaard, a force in Western Canada, and Chad Cook, successful at Delta Downs in recent years, are interesting new participants.

The focal point of the Thoroughbred meet continues to be the Iowa Festival of Racing, conducted June 26-27. The festival’s highlights are its trio of Grade 3 races held Saturday, June 27: the $200,000 Iowa Oaks, $250,000 Iowa Derby, and $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap.

The meet concludes Saturday, Aug. 8, with Iowa Classic Night, featuring seven stakes races for Iowa-breds worth more than $600,000 in total.