06/26/2010 12:00AM

Red Lead defends home turf

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Eight of the nine horses entered in the Cornhusker Handicap have come from Texas and Illinois, from Florida and California. Horse number 9 walks out of his own stall on the Prairie Meadows backstretch when he is led over to contest the Grade 2, $300,000 Cornhusker on Saturday night, and Red Lead might give the ship-ins everything they can handle.

Red Lead has finished worse than third only twice in his 15-start career, and he has won his last two races, most recently capturing the local Cornhusker prep by 2 1/2 lengths over Shadowbdancing, a fine second in the 2009 Cornhusker.

"I believe the horse is still a horse moving forward," said Chris Hartman, trainer of Red Lead.

The Cornhusker goes as race 8 Saturday, with post time scheduled for 9:50 p.m. Central. The featured race of the Prairie Meadows season, it is preceded by two solid Grade 3 stakes for 3-year-olds, the Iowa Derby for males and the Iowa Oaks for fillies. The derby will see the return of Winslow Homer, a leading Triple Crown candidate before getting injured. Attendees should not require a jacket: The temperature Saturday is forecast to reach 92 degrees. There s a 30 percent chance of storms Saturday evening.

Storms have hit central Iowa with amazing frequency the last couple of weeks, and that has altered Red Lead's training. One week before his sharp score in the May 29 Rasmussen Memorial, Red Lead worked five furlongs in 59 seconds. Hartman, though, had to push a work back from June 12 to June 15 because of bad weather, then worked Red Lead an easy half-mile again Tuesday.

"I worked him on an off track," Hartman said. "I didn't want to do it, but I had to do something. Two weeks in a row the same thing happened. It's not going to be a big thing, but I always like to stretch him out a week before. But the horse, he hasn't missed a beat, and he feels like a million bucks."

Red Lead might feel like a million bucks, but Brass Hat has earned more than $2 million. Now 9, Brass Hat has traveled as far as Dubai during a 36-start career. In the dead of Wednesday night, trainer Buff Bradley left his Kentucky farm, picked the horse up from Churchill Downs, and drove him to Prairie Meadows himself.

"He always travels good," Bradley said.

Brass Hat has found a second career racing in turf marathons the last two seasons. The Cornhusker will be his first dirt start since he finished fifth behind Curlin in the 2008 Stephen Foster Handicap.

"Calvin's been begging to run him back on the dirt," Bradley said, referring to jockey Calvin Borel. "He's worked well on the dirt. Most of the time he hasn't had a good pace setup for his running style in these long races. I think in a little shorter race, the pace might come back to him."

Four horses could contest the early lead: Slew's Tizzy, who makes his first start since Dec. 6, 2008; Mythical Power, the 3-1 morning-line favorite for trainer Bob Baffert; King Dan; and Shadowbdancing, who had a one-length lead at the stretch call in the 2009 Cornhusker.

Mythical Power has only a maiden win outside Lone Star Park, where he easily handled Red Lead in the 2009 Lone Star Derby. But Red Lead is a different horse now.

"The horse has matured," Hartman said. "He's so much physically stronger than he was, and mentally he's learning to relax more."