06/21/2011 2:03PM

Prairie Meadows: Seemingly ageless Awesome Gem heads 11-horse field for Cornhusker Handicap

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Reed Palmer Photography
Awesome Gem, winning last month's Lone Star Handicap, is still going strong as a 8-year-old and is one of the prime contenders for Saturday's Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap.

Saturday evening’s concluding night of the Iowa Festival of Racing stages the Thoroughbred meet’s trio of Grade 3 stakes – the $200,000 Iowa Oaks, the $250,000 Iowa Derby, and the track’s signature event, the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap.

Headed by the grand campaigner Awesome Gem, an 8-year-old gelding, the Cornhusker drew a competitive field of 11. Winner of more than $2.5 million in his 43-race career, Awesome Gem most recently wore down Flat Out to take the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap on May 30. Robbie Albarado comes in from Churchill Downs for the return mount.

Other Cornhusker contenders include Stachys, who returns from Canterbury Park after scoring in the May 28 Jim Rasmussen Memorial here; defending champ Shadowbdancing, who seeks a form reversal after running third in the Rasmussen; and It Happened Again, winner of Oaklawn’s Grade 3 Razorback Handicap on March 12. It Happened Again, owned by Prairie Meadows’s leading owner Maggi Moss and trained by Steve Asmussen, will be ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith for the first time.

The Iowa Derby, which features eight 3-year-old colts, brings in Preakness Stakes third-place finisher Astrology, also trained by Asmussen and ridden by Smith, and Caleb’s Posse, the in-form Donnie K. Von Hemel trainee who convincingly took the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 4. Bob Baffert, the trainer of 2010 Iowa Derby winner and track record holder Concord Point, tapped Prayer for Relief from his group of 12 nominees.

The Iowa Oaks, with its six 3-year-old fillies, is headlined by Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks winner Daisy Devine, who seeks to rebound from her seventh place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. She is trained by Bull McKeever and her regular rider, James Graham, takes the call.