04/18/2012 1:26PM

Prairie Meadows: Changes aplenty as 24th season of racing begins


ALTOONA, Iowa – Significant changes mark the beginning of the 24th year of Thoroughbred racing at Prairie Meadows, which begins Friday and runs through Aug. 11.

Prairie Meadows has adjusted its four-day racing week and will replace Monday and Tuesday evening cards with Thursday night and Sunday afternoon racing. The more traditional format will be Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays with a first post of 6:30 p.m. and Sundays beginning at 1 p.m.

In addition, Iowa recently legalized online betting. TVG will make a rare visit to the track on opening weekend and more extensive coverage of the 67-day meet’s racing is expected.

Fred Hutton, most recently the racing secretary at Zia Park and Les Bois Park, takes over the same position at Prairie Meadows. Hutton said he “is excited about the opportunity and looks forward to overseeing a high quality program that includes graded stakes races.”

The June 29-30 Iowa Festival of Racing is the highlight of the season. The festival consists of six stakes, including a trio of Grade 3 events: the $200,000 Iowa Oaks, $250,000 Iowa Derby, and the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap. Statebred runners will point to Iowa Classic night on Aug. 4, which will offer more than $540,000 in purses in seven different divisions.

In the training ranks, new faces such as Craig Dollase, Brian House, Richard Jackson and James Hogue add intrigue. Also, Steve Asmussen, Mike Biehler, and Donnie Von Hemel will stable some horses here instead of shipping in to race.

The jockey colony is largely unchanged with the exception of John Jacinto, who will based here for the first time since 2003. Garrett Steinberg, son of the late jockey Pat Steinberg, will begin his apprenticeship here after readying himself at Will Rogers Downs.

Owner Maggi Moss, fresh off winning the Fair Grounds title and enjoying her runner Outta Tune’s win in the $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn, will defend her title with a strong hand. Her trainer, Chris Richard, who also conditions River Ridge Ranch’s string of Iowa-breds, seeks to improve on his meet-leading numbers from a year ago.

Last year’s leading rider, Terry Thompson, will be based here again and, after winning 97 races last year, hopes to top the century mark. Thompson finished second in this season’s Oaklawn standings.

Alex Birzer, who finished a career-best third at Oaklawn, could provide the biggest challenge to Thompson.

The opening weekend stakes are the $60,000 Goldfinch on Friday and the $60,000 Golden Circle on Saturday. The stakes are open six-furlong races for 3-year-old fillies and colts and geldings, respectively.