06/24/2009 11:00PM

Native Ruler right at home in Iowa Sprint


ALTOONA, Iowa - In addition to the Grade 2, $300,000 Cornhusker Handicap, Saturday evening's Iowa Festival of Racing card at Prairie Meadows includes a pair of $125,000 stakes, the Iowa Sprint Handicap and the Iowa Distaff.

Contested over six furlongs, the Iowa Sprint Handicap has attracted a deep field of seven. Defending champ Native Ruler will vie for favoritism with Bold Start, Silver Edition, Semaphore Man, and Sok Sok.

Stabled locally by trainer Chris Richard for leading owner Maggi Moss, Native Ruler has won his last four races and eight of his last nine on dirt. He returned from a four-month break caused by nagging foot troubles to brush aside three foes in the May 30 Prairie Express here. Although his competition will be tougher on Saturday night, the 5-year-old Native Ruler will be more fit this time around and has the home-court advantage.

Bold Start, Semaphore Man, and Sok Sok finished first, second and fourth in the Grade 3 Aristides at Churchill Downs May 30.

After a lackluster winter in Florida, the Kenneth McPeek-trained Bold Start has made a sparkling return to form since returning to Kentucky. His Aristides victory, which came by 2 3/4 lengths in a spritely 1:09.04 for six furlongs, marked his first graded stakes win in his 31st career start.

Semaphore Man, winner of the last two runnings of Oaklawn Park's Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, returns to Prairie Meadows for the first time since finishing fourth in the 2006 Iowa Sprint Handicap. Kelly Von Hemel trains Semaphore Man, who trains on the synthetic surface at Arlington Park.

Silver Edition, a D. Wayne Lukas trainee, finished third in Belmont's Grade 2 True North Handicap on June 6. The Steve Asmussen-trained Sok Sok was the 9-5 favorite in the Aristides.

Probable pacesetter Eaton's Gift, making his 2009 debut, and Ez Dreamer, winner of a six-furlong allowance sprint here June 15 in a snappy 1:08.78, complete the lineup.

The 1 1/16-mile Iowa Distaff drew only five fillies and mares and looks like a showdown between prolific winner Euphony and three-time graded stakes winner Bear Now.

Euphony, trained by Donnie K. Von Hemel, has won her last five races, all stakes, including the Grade 3 Arlington Matron on May 23. She handles all surfaces, including the Prairie dirt, where she cruised to a 2 1/2-length victory in last September's Prairie Meadows Oaks.

Bear Now ran third two starts ago in Keeneland's seven-furlong Grade 1 Madison in April, finishing just over a length behind winner Informed Decision, with 2008 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Ventura in second. Bear Now put in a dull effort over Churchill's sealed slop on Derby Day in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, but trainer Al Stall says she is at her best for Saturday's race.

"I moved her back to Keeneland following the Humana Distaff and she does so well there," he said. "She's a big, lovely mare with a lot of presence about her, and she deserves to win."

Aiming to upset the two favorites in the Iowa Distaff are the Steve Asmussen-trained Copper State, who finished second behind Ginger Punch in Saratoga's Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap last July; the closer Day of Victory; and local hope Celeritas, winner of the May 23 Wild Rose over the course and distance.