06/23/2011 3:41PM

Prairie Meadows: Cornhusker lures deep field of 11

Reed Palmer Photography
Awesome Gem wins the Lone Star Handicap. He has earnings of $2.5 million.

ALTOONA, Iowa – The two-day Iowa Festival of Racing comes to a close Saturday night with an ultra-competitive renewal of the Grade  3, $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap. Contested over a mile and one-eighth, the Cornhusker drew a field of 11 veterans and is headed by West Point Thoroughbreds Awesome Gem, a winner of $2,508,270 in his 43-race career.

Awesome Gem, the 3-1 morning line favorite, most recently won the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap by a length over Flat Out and Santa Anita Handicap champ Game On Dude. He has shipped in from his Hollywood Park base for trainer Craig Dollase. Robby Albarado, who rode him at Lone Star, makes the trip from Churchill Downs for the return call.

Headache may hold a slight edge over the other entrants. Claimed back by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey for $25,000 on Sept. 30 at Belmont Park, Headache has shown recent improvement for his trainer, Mike Maker. He was sharp taking a May 21 optional claiming race at Churchill Downs by 7 1/2 lengths in an eye-catching time of 1:42.61 for 1 1/16 miles.

Perhaps living up to his name, Headache, according to Maker, “is a very quirky horse, the kind you don’t want to make the lead too soon with.” But, he added, “judging by his last race, we may finally have him figured out.”

Miguel Mena, who won last weekend’s Grade  1 Stephen Foster at Churchill on 36-1 longshot Pool Play, retains the mount.

It Happened Again, trained by Steve Asmussen for Maggi Moss, appears another live contender under Mike Smith. Claimed for $20,000 last October at Woodbine, It Happened Again, according to Asmussen, is “just another one of those horses who needed to get off the synth and get on the dirt.”

If able to run to his best form, which he showed winning the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn in March, It Happened Again will be right in the mix. It Happened Again finished an even fourth after lacking room in his local prep for this, the $60,000 Jim Rasmussen Memorial.

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

Stachys, who returns from Canterbury Park for trainer Mike Biehler, showed his affinity for the Prairie Meadows track when winning the Rasmussen by 1 3/4 lengths. A deep closer who should relish the nine-furlong Cornhusker distance, Stachys is listed as the 9-2 second choice and Derek Bell returns to partner the 4-year-old gelded son of Candy Ride.

Trainer Chris Hartman, based here at Prairie Meadows, saddles his two best older route horses, Schramsberg and Red Lead.

Schramsberg is one of the best bred horses in training, being by Storm Cat out of the champion Serena’s Song. He peaked when taking the Grade 3 John B. Connally Handicap at Sam Houston in January over the Cornhusker distance on the turf.

“I’ve always thought he is just as good on the dirt as the turf and I hope he can prove it,” Hartman said.

Red Lead won the 2010 Rasmussen, defeating that year’s Cornhusker champ Shadowbdancing, but will be seeking a return to form.

“He’s training well and I look for him to be forwardly placed in his third race of this form circle,” said Hartman.

Shadowbdancing returns to defend his title. A 6-year-old son of Montbrook trained in Chicago by Terrel Gore, Shadowbdancing has never finished off the board here in nine races. As a horse who likes to race on the outside, he drew well in the 9 post.

Jim Tafel’s Fast Alex, Hollywood Park shipper Victory Pete, Cryptolight, the mount of local leading rider Terry Thompson, and talented deep closer Black Hills are all entered with a legitimate chance of pulling off an upset in this wide-open Cornhusker.

After an unseasonably cool and rainy week, beautiful early summer weather is expected for the Iowa Festival of Racing. Post time is 6:30 p.m. Central.