06/28/2012 2:03PM

Prairie Meadows: Successful Dan the standout in Cornhusker

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Successful Dan, with Julien Leparoux riding, wins the Alysheba at Churchill Downs, defeating Fort Larned, who he will face again in the Cornhusker.

ALTOONA, Iowa – Successful Dan, who is ranked as the fifth-best older horse in the country by Daily Racing Form’s Mike Watchmaker. comes to Iowa from Kentucky for the Grade 3, $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap on Saturday night. The 1 1/8-mile Cornhusker has a field of six.

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Trained by Charlie Lopresti, Successful Dan is 7 for 10 and seems to be improving with age. He has crossed the finish line first in his last five races, including a disqualification in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last fall. Most recently, he charged home powerfully last month to win Churchill’s Grade 2 Alysheba by a length from Cornhusker rival Fort Larned.

Lopresti is in the fortunate position of also training Successful Dan’s accomplished younger half-brother Wise Dan, and he has to keep the progeny of the broodmare Lisa Danielle separated. Wise Dan ran second in Churchill’s Grade 1 Stephen Foster on June 16.

Successful Dan’s Chicago-based owner-breeder, Mort Fink, will make the trip to see Successful Dan contest the Cornhusker. Regular rider Julien Leparoux rides.

Defending champ Headache won the Cornhusker last year by 2 1/2 lengths over Awesome Gem, and both return on Saturday. Headache has been on the shelf since subpar efforts in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and Clark Handicap. He rallied strongly in the 2011 Cornhusker and then won the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup last October.
Headache’s trainer, Mike Maker, sees this race as a good starting point for the 6-year-old gelding. According to Maker, “Headache is training forwardly and ready.” Jockey Ramon Dominguez partners with Headache for the first time since a Gulfstream turf allowance race in February of 2011.

Fort Larned fits with these despite a lackluster effort when he ran eighth in the Foster. A Janis Whitham homebred based at Churchill with Ian Wilkes, Folrt Larned brought three good efforts into the Foster, including a 2 1/2-length tally in Gulfstream’s March 31 Grade 3 Skip Away.

The 2010 Cornhusker champ, Shadowbdancing, may be in the advantageous position of controlling the pace under local rider Israel Ocampo. Ocampo, who won the 2008 Cornhusker aboard longshot Wayzata Bay, fits Shadowbdancing nicely, and proved that with a front-running 2 1/2-length score in the May 26 Jim Rasmussen Memorial, the traditional local Cornhusker prep.

Hickory-tough 9-year-old Awesome Gem returns for the Cornhusker in good form after producing his reliable late kick to finish second in Golden Gate’s Grade 3 Berkeley on May 28. He was promoted to first when the apparent winner, Positive Response, was disqualified for drifting in.

Awesome Gem has run in 40 stakes races at 15 different tracks in his 50-race career. David Flores, who has ridden Awesome Gem in 3 of his 6 graded stakes wins, regains the mount.

Taptowne, who defeated Shadowbdancing in Hawthorne’s April 7 Cryptoclearance by 1 1/4 lengths, ventures in from Arlington Park for trainer Mike Reavis.

The Cornhusker, the ninth race on the card, follows renewals of the Iowa Oaks and Iowa Derby. It has a scheduled post time of 10:11 p.m. Central.