04/16/2014 12:30PM

Pope returns for new Prairie Meadows meet


ALTOONA, Iowa – Following an arduous winter that has produced snow well into April, Prairie Meadows readies for its 25th annual spring/summer Thoroughbred meet with a game plan largely unchanged from recent seasons.

Racing secretary Pat Pope, who just completed another successful Oaklawn meet, returns to his native Iowa after a five-year stint at the helm of Delaware Park’s racing office.

Pope served as racing secretary here from 1997-2002, and spent a good portion of 2008 here as an associate steward during the Thoroughbred meet. Last season, Quarter Horse racing secretary Chad Keller performed the same duties during the Thoroughbred meet, allowing director of racing Derron Heldt to conduct a thorough search for a fourth new racing secretary in as many years.

Heldt said he is confident that Pope “can attract new and competitive outfits to Prairie Meadows and oversee a successful meet.”

That quest begins on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Pope has been able to attract large strings conditioned by Ron Moquett and Kenny Smith to return here after spending summers with him in Delaware. In addition, 2013 leading trainer Chris Richard will be back, as will his chief pursuers Ray Tracy, Chris Hartman, Tim Martin, and Lynn Chleborad.

Jockey David Mello, a winner of 98 races here last year, aims to defend his first riding title.

With 65 racing dates and over $15 million in total purses for the meet, the 2014 schedule is similar to that in recent years, with racing conducted on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m.

The focal point of the stakes season is the June 28-29 Iowa Festival of Racing when the track’s trio of Grade 3 races – the Iowa Oaks, Iowa Derby, and Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap – are held on June 29.