A first ever trip to Central Iowa's Prairie Meadows last Saturday night turned out to be a rousing success. The five-hour drive did not seem too long after arriving to a lively atmosphere at the combination racetrack and casino. Trackman, John Hernandez, invited me to be on the in-house television show at Prairie Meadows, which was a pleasure, and I also had a chance to meet up with some of my favorite racing buddies, as well as, making several new friends during the races. Of course I was there for the horses, and the evening's card provided many quality runners, some of which were expected, while others proved pleasant surprises.
The night's big winners were Headache in the Cornhusker Handicap, Prayer for Relief in the Iowa Derby, and Little Miss Holly in the Iowa Oaks. And that is the exact order in which I was impressed with each graded stakes winner. Despite being five-years-old, I believe the Kenneth and Sara Ramsey owned, Michael Maker trained, Headache is finally putting everything together. His previous win at Churchill Downs was an eye-catcher, and so was his win in the Cornhusker. The son of Tapit relaxed early and swept by the field with a powerful burst to win going away by 2 ½ lengths. Final time for the 1 1/8 miles was racehorse time of 1:47.83. Considering his last two races, I don't see any reason why this one can't compete with anyone in a rather light older male division.
While Headache was my top pick, I stayed off of the Bob Baffert shipper, Prayer for Relief in the Derby. Big Mistake. The California shipper was coming off only one race thus far in 2011, and that coming in a seemingly nothing special type of allowance win. Once again I was reminded never to underestimate Baffert when he brings a horse from synthetics to dirt. The son of Jump Start was forwardly placed throughout and when challenged by the talented local Sheriff Cogburn, the horse who would have fattened my wallet, he dug in and pulled away late to win by 2 lengths in a solid 1:41.73. The Oaks winner, Little Miss Holly was certainly the least impressive of the three, but the experienced sophomore daughter of Maria's Mon did earn her second straight win with a 2 length score. Final time for the Oaks was a tad slow compared with the other times of the evening.
While Headache was the star of the stakes program, I also left extremely impressed with a two-year-old maiden winner named Jake Mo. After finishing fast to just miss in his debut, the dark bay son of Giacomo was much closer to the pace on Saturday, before exploding away from the field down the lane. The winning margin was nearly ten lengths, and the second horse, who should break his maiden soon, was nearly ten lengths ahead of the third place finisher. Final time for the 5 ½ furlongs was a dazzling 1:02.88. Fast racing strip, or no, that is a serious time for a juvenile maiden winner. Ridden by Israel Ocampo, he has the action of a paddler, but his talent is obvious. By Giacomo, out of a With Approval mare, distance should be no problem as he matures. I realize this was only a maiden race, but I expect Jake Mo to make a lot of noise in the future.
All and all, it was a great night in Central Iowa. I was impressed with the facility, racing surface, and the summer fair kind of atmosphere outside, mixed with the more metropolitan feel inside the grandstand of Prairie Meadows. After making the trip home I was pleased to find that I was not the only one that was interested in the racing Saturday evening, and pushing money through the windows, as total handle for the card surpassed $1.2 million, which is the highest at Prairie Meadows in three years.
Photo courtesy of Coady Photography