06/22/2011 3:33PM

Prairie Meadows: Interesting match-up in Iowa Sprint Handicap on day one of festival

Barbara D. Livingston
Ventana, with Martin Garcia up, wins the Maryland Sprint Handicap.

ALTOONA, Iowa – With Friday evening’s emphasis on sprinters, the Iowa Festival of Racing at Prairie Meadows kicks off with a pair of six-furlong stakes, the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap and the $100,000 Saylorville.

The card also includes the $100,000 Iowa Distaff at 1 1/16 miles. The festival will conclude with three more stakes Saturday evening, topped by the Grade 3, $300,000 Cornhusker Handicap.

The Iowa Sprint Handicap, which drew a field of seven, is headed by the Bob Baffert-trained Ventana, an impressive three-quarter-length winner of the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap on May 21. Ventana will be facing the fastest Washington-bred in training, Atta Boy Roy, who is conditioned at Canterbury Park by Valorie Lund.

Ventana, a 5-year-old son of Toccet, is based at Churchill Downs where he has reeled off three straight June workouts since his Pimlico win.

“He came out of his Maryland race nicely and has been working well in Louisville,” Baffert said.

Rafael Bejarano, who leads the current Hollywood Park meet with 42 wins, will fly in to ride Ventana for just the second time.

Atta Boy Roy, a 6-year-old ridgling by Tribunal, is, according to Lund, “as good as he has ever been in his life.” Lund said that Atta Boy Roy came out of his one length runner-up effort to Noble’s Promise in Churchill’s Grade 3 Aristides on June 4 excellently, and that she loves his outside draw. Lund added that Atta Boy Roy is “tractable” and that jockey Jesus Castanon has “a better understanding of him now.”

Atta Boy Roy scored his biggest career win last year in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes.

The race is chock-full of speed. The Brett Creighton-owned and -trained Arkansas-bred Humble Smarty, who earned an eye-popping 110 Beyer figure when smashing Canterbury’s five-furlong track record May 30 in 56.10, zipped a half-mile in 45.60 here at Prairie Meadows last Friday morning.

Winter Camp, trained by locally-based Jon Arnett, blazed six furlongs in a May 16 optional claiming win in 1:08.80 and is no stranger to laying down a sub 44-second half-mile.

Ducky Drake, the 5 1/2-furlong track-record holder here, the Don Von Hemel-trained Billy Two Hats, and Catabout complete the field.

Saylorville: Beat the Blues stands out

The Saylorville, which lured six quick fillies and mares, looks like Beat the Blues’s race to lose. Installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite, the Bret Calhoun trainee will probably start at a much shorter price. Her neck defeat in Churchill’s Grade 3 Winning Colors on May 30 to track-specialist Sassy Image stands out as a convincing piece of form.

The chief threat could come from the lightly-raced Robert and Lawana Low homebred Ha Ha Tonka. Trained by Dan Peitz, the 4-year-old Distorted Humor filly, victorious over this oval in the May 30 Prairie Rose, may still be improving.

Altoona-based Smoky Belle, Tornado Belle, Joe Ja, and Keeneland visitor Hot Hot Mama also are contenders.

Distaff: Freedom Star makes return

Splitting the two sprint stakes on the 10 race card is the Iowa Distaff.

The race marks the return to competition of Freedom Star, also trained by Baffert. When asked to explain his selection of this race as her first since a win in Sunland Park’s Harry Henson Handicap in March 2010, Baffert said, “I really wanted the two turns for her and there’s just nothing out here in California for her.”

Freedom Star is 2 for 2, including a 3 3/4-length win in Oaklawn’s Grade  3 Azeri last year over former Iowa Distaff winner Euphony. Freedom Star will break from the rail under Bejarano.

Her main competition could come from the Calhoun-trained Bella Medaglia, who recently cruised home by 3 1/2 lengths in a May 19 Churchill Downs allowance at 1 1/8 miles.

Other Distaff entrants of note are the Mike Stidham-trained mare La Rocca, the mount of recent Preakness winner Jesus Castanon, and Remit, who gets the services of Mike Smith after taking the May 28 Wild Rose here by a nose for trainer Steve Asmussen.

The first night of the Iowa Festival of Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. Central.

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