06/02/2011 1:56PM

Prairie Meadows: 3-year-olds tune up for Festival in two stakes


ALTOONA, Iowa – The $60,000 Panthers for 3-year-old fillies and the $60,000 Prairie Mile for 3-year-old males on Saturday night at Prairie Meadows, provide an opportunity for those considering a start in the Iowa Oaks or Iowa Derby to race a mile around two turns.

On paper, both events appear extremely deep.

The Panthers, which drew seven hopefuls for the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks on June 25, is led by Awesome Symmetry and Joe Ja, both impressive winners here this season.

Awesome Symmetry, undefeated in three starts, is returning from her home base of Fairmount Park for trainer Scott Becker. She cruised to a six-length allowance victory here in her last start May 3 while covering six furlongs in 1:10.09. From the large stable of Midwestern owner William Stiritz, the daughter of Awesome Again will be making her stakes debut while racing around two turns for the first time. Leading rider Terry Thompson has a return call.

Joe Ja, trained locally by Dan McFarlane for owner-breeder Pete Gallegos, won the April 22 Goldfinch Stakes here by three-quarters of a length over fellow Panthers entrant All About Allie. Joe Ja blazed six furlongs that night in 1:09.57 in a race obscured by dense fog. On May  26, the daughter of Ministers Wild Cat proved her readiness for the Panthers with an eye-catching six-furlong workout here in 1:11.

Among the shippers are the Churchill Downs-based fillies Fast Tip, trained by Bret Calhoun, and Henny’s Hurricane, conditioned by Kenny McPeek. Fast Tip, who has raced well over Polytrack, dirt, and turf, returns to dirt here. She relished the Fair Grounds main track when taking a March 26 allowance sprint by 3 1/4 lengths.

Henny’s Hurricane’s most recent try was a solid effort when second to Secret File by a half-length in an allowance race over a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs.

Other contenders include Hearts On Fire, perhaps the field’s most effective closer for Donnie K. Von Hemel, and Hawthorne raider Shes Got to Run, owned and trained by Terry Young.

The Prairie Mile, which drew five colts and five geldings pointing toward the Grade 3 Iowa Derby on July 25, is another difficult handicapping puzzle.

Morning line favorite Sherriff Cogburn, installed as a tepid 4-1 favorite and trained by veteran Don Von Hemel, must rebound from a 3 3/4-length defeat to Prairie Mile entrant Arcadian, trained by McFarlane, in the six-furlong Golden Circle here April 23.

Hydro Power, a Richard Rudolph homebred trained by Spanky Broussard, drew the rail. He ran a great race when second to Denham by 2  3/4 lengths in Hawthorne’s April  23 Milwaukee Avenue Handicap for Illinois-breds. Notably on that occasion, Hydro Power finished a head in front of the 6-year-old Racing Bran, who was second in both the 2010 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap and last Saturday’s Jim Rasmussen Memorial.

The Calhoun-trained Grant Jack, Pin Oak Stable LLC’s Fairing, and the locally based Wild Jacob and It’s My Party could easily enter the argument as well.

IOWA FESTIVAL OF RACING: Videos, previews, PPs and race cards for Saturday's slate at Prairie Meadows