06/11/2002 11:00PM

Prairie Meadows track report

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ALTOONA, Iowa - With less than a month left in the 53-day meeting, a good battle is developing for the training title. Stanley Roberts, the leading trainer here last year, and Don Von Hemel are tied for the lead with 17 victories. Ray Tracy Jr. is one back in third position, with Roger Engel two wins behind the leaders in fourth through Monday's action.

Von Hemel is unlikely to take the title, having recently shipped 20 horses to Arlington, but is having perhaps the best meet of any trainer on the grounds. He has 17 winners from just 63 starters, while Roberts and Tracy each have saddled over 100 head.

Von Hemel's starters have earned more than $389,000 at the meet, $114,000 more than his nearest competitor. Von Hemel has sent out several future stars, including the 3-year-old Iowa-bred filly One Fine Shweetie and the colt Cowboy Stuff, who have each won a stakes here.

"We entered the meet in good shape and the horses are in capable hands with Thad Keller," said Von Hemel, referring to his longtime assistant trainer. Keller is running the string here while Von Hemel has remained home in Hot Springs, Ark., where he has been receiving radiation treatments after showing symptoms of the return of prostate cancer.

Von Hemel said both One Fine Shweetie and Cowboy Stuff have been training well since their respective stakes scores here and expects both to run big here this weekend. One Fine Shweetie goes in the $60,000 Panthers Stakes against open company Friday and Cowboy Stuff will go in the Prairie Mile on Saturday.

For his part, Roberts seemed unconcerned about winning a second straight training title here.

"I'll lead a couple over each day and win as many as I can," he said. "I don't have many Iowa-breds, which hurts my chances. If it happens it happens; the main thing is making money not winning titles."

Tracy, who won the title here in 2000, differs from the other leading trainers at the meet in that he remains here for the 45-day mixed meet, which follows the Thoroughbred meet. On his chances of winning the training title, Tracy said: "I've got some live horses left to run. If the races go and we have some racing luck, I may have a chance."

The only trainer hotter than Von Hemel at the meet has been Engel, whose 15 winners have come from just 31 starters. Engel saddled two winners on Monday, including Makaha, who broke a seven-year-old track record for a mile and 70 yards by clocking the distance in 1:39.76.