04/17/2013 1:39PM

Prairie Meadows: Meet will offer $230,000 a day in purses


ALTOONA, Iowa – With the local horse population reaching 1,000 on Wednesday as shippers from tracks such as Oaklawn Park and Sunland Park flow into town, Prairie Meadows is readying for the Friday evening opener of its Thoroughbred meet.

The 67-date meet, with racing conducted Thursdays to Sundays, runs through Aug. 10 and will offer average daily purses of just more than $230,000.

The stakes schedule is highlighted by the six-race Iowa Festival of Racing, which will be held on the weekend of June 28-29. Last year’s festival treated fans to stellar performances by 2011 champion 2-year-old colt Hansen, eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, and the multiple Grade 2-winning mare Brushed by a Star. The June 29 card will feature the track’s trio of Grade 3 events, the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap, the $250,000 Iowa Derby, and the $200,000 Iowa Oaks.

This season will mark the beginning of the Iowa/Minnesota Challenge Races, a venture designed by Leroy Gessman, president of the Iowa Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, to extend the racing season for horses bred in each respective state. In designated races, Minnesota-breds will be allowed to race with Iowa-breds at Prairie Meadows in advance of the start of the Canterbury Park season on May 17. In return, Iowa-breds will be given similar opportunities to compete against Minnesota-breds at the Shakopee oval from the conclusion of the Prairie Meadows meet through Sept. 14.

Racing secretary Chad Keller takes the reins of the Thoroughbred meet for the first time. He has been the track’s Quarter Horse racing secretary since 2008. The track also will introduce a new 50-cent pick five, which will be offered on the last five races of each card.

Familiar faces abound on the backstretch as longtime regulars Lynn Chleborad, Dick Clark, Kelly Von Hemel, and Ray Tracy are settling in alongside successful returnees Jon Arnett, Chris Hartman, Tim Martin, and Chris Richard.

Richard was a dominant force here in 2012, winning 76 races at a remarkable 33 percent clip, bounding 28 winners clear of Chleborad for the training title.

New trainers expected to make an impact include Bill Martin (Tim’s brother), David Anderson, Scott Young, Kelli Martinez, and Federico Villafranco. Returning after a hiatus away from Altoona is a group that includes Kenny Smith, Martin Lozano, and Don Roberson.

Last year’s leading rider Alex Birzer will defend his title following a solid Oaklawn Park campaign, in which he won 40 races while finishing third in the standings. Birzer won a personal best 95 races here in 2012 to finish ahead of annual rivals David Mello, Terry Thompson – whose 2012 run was blunted by a broken leg – and Glenn Corbett, the all-time winningest rider at Prairie Meadows.