04/19/2005 12:00AM

Prairie opens with first Grade 2 scheduled


Prairie Meadows, which begins a 47-day Thoroughbred meeting Thursday evening, will host the first Grade 2 race in its history when the $350,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap is run on July 2.

Last year's Cornhusker was won by Roses in May, who has gone on to become one of the world's top handicap horses, finishing second in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Classic and winning the $6 million Dubai World Cup. The Cornhusker originally was held at the now shuttered Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in Omaha, Neb., from 1966 to 1995 and then transferred to Prairie Meadows in 1997. The Cornhusker was run as a Grade 2 from 1978 to 1989 and as a Grade 3 from 1990 to 2004.

Prairie Meadows, located in Altoona, Iowa, outside of Des Moines, will distribute $15 million dollars in purses during this year's Thoroughbred meeting and the mixed meeting that follows, matching the purse level here in each of the past two seasons. The track is in the third and final year of a purse contract with the horsemen. Purses are expected to increase here in 2006 because of additional slot machine and table-game revenue.

The Iowa Festival of Racing, which runs July 1-4 and features two stakes events per day, once again highlights the meet.

In a departure from years past, the track's biggest events will be on the first two days of the festival this year.

The Grade 3, $125,000 Iowa Oaks, Prairie Meadows's only other graded stakes, and the $250,000 Iowa Derby will be contested on Friday, July 1. The Cornhusker, for 3-year-olds and up, will be contested at 1 1/8 miles on Saturday.

Prairie's director of racing, Derron Heldt, said track officials thought that holding the biggest races of the festival on Friday and Saturday evening would attract the most national exposure.

Dick Clark, Prairie's all-time leading trainer and two-time defending champ, returns with a full barn, as do Kelly Von Hemel, his father, Don Von Hemel, and Prairie's 1999-2000 leading trainer, Ray Tracy Jr. All finished in the top five here last year. Larry Jones, who has always won at a high percentage here, has picked up several prominent Iowa owners this year and could also compete for the training title.

Cliff Delima returns to Prairie Meadows from northern California. In his only season at Prairie, 2000, Delima won at a 26-percent clip and finished second in the standings. Delima has been granted 50 stalls and should be a force throughout the meeting.

New faces in the training ranks here include Nick Canani from California and Bill Helmbrecht from Tampa, both of whom are expected to have around 20 horses stabled here.

Jockey Tim Doocy, with the help of agent Kenny Washburn, took the riding title at both meets here last year, the first time Doocy had ridden at Prairie on a regular basis. Doocy, who recently won his 4,500th career race at Oaklawn, returns to defend his title. Also back are the remainder of last season's top five riders: Terry Thompson, who won four straight titles here from 2000-2003 and was battling Doocy for the title last year when he suffered a broken leg, Glenn Corbett, Alex Birzer, and Ken Shino.

A new face who could make an impact in the rider standings is Joe Rocco Jr., who will be represented by Gene Short, who returns to Prairie after a two-year absence. Short most recently booked mounts for Jeremy Rose, who captured the riding title at Oaklawn Park and won last Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby aboard Afleet Alex.

Prairie will conduct racing on Tuesday afternoons with a 3:30 p.m. Central first post, and on Thursday through Saturday evenings with a 6:30 p.m. first post.

At a glance:

RACING SCHEDULE: 47 days; April 21 through July 4; racing Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays weekly. Special racing dates: May 29-30 and July 3-4.

POST TIME: Tuesdays and May 30, July 3, and July 4 3:30 p.m., Central; Thursday through Saturday, 6:30 p.m.; May 29, 1:30 p.m.


July 1Iowa Derby$250,000
July 1Iowa Oaks (G3)125,000
July 2Cornhusker BC Handicap (G2)350,000
July 2Iowa Distaff BC125,000
July 4Iowa Sprint Handicap125,000
July 4Saylorville100,000


LOCATION: Exit 142 Interstate 80 in Altoona Iowa, 10 miles northeast of Des Moines

PHONE: (515) 967-1000

INTERNET: www.prairiemeadows.com