An eight-length winner of the Prairie Meadows Handicap on his last visit to Iowa in 2013, Grade 1 veteran Golden Ticket returns to the Hawkeye State Saturday night in search of victory in the Grade 3, $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap, a 1 ⅛ mile test for older horses that tops a card that includes the Grade 3, $250,000 Iowa Derby and Grade 3, $200,000 Iowa Oaks.
A dead-heat winner of the Travers in 2012, Golden Ticket has captured just one stakes since then, the aforementioned 1 ¼-mile Prairie Meadows Handicap last July. However, the Kenny McPeek trainee has finished second in a number of high-class stakes, including the 2013 editions of the Stephen Foster Handicap and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and this year's renewals of the Gulfstream Park Handicap and Alysheba.
In the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 8, Golden Ticket finished only a head behind Palace Malice, widely considered the leading older horse in the country. Two starts back, in the May 2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs, the son of Speightstown lost by a half-length to Moonshine Mullin, who subsequently captured the Stephen Foster while Golden Ticket faded to fifth.
McPeek has also entered Bellarmine, an ex-claimer who captured allowances at Keeneland and Churchill this spring.
Other Louisville-based invaders include Carve, third in the Oaklawn Handicap in April and a sharp third-level allowance winner last out; Coin Broker, third in the Alysheba; Lent, an allowance-winning half-brother to 2012 Cornhusker and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned; and Eriugena, also an allowance scorer during the Churchill spring meet.
Likely to show early foot in the Cornhusker are Right to Vote, winner of the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn and Jim Rasmussen Memorial, a local prep, last time, and Ground Transport, a stakes winner at Belmont and Laurel this year who cuts back from 1 ½ miles after fading to fifth in the Brooklyn Handicap.
Vicar's in Trouble, the Louisiana Derby and Lecomte winner who endured a rough trip when trailing a field of 19 in the Kentucky Derby, will make his first start since that classic in the 1 1/16-mile Iowa Derby. The Mike Maker charge is sure to use his strong early foot to put some distance between himself and the rest, and will be ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, who substitutes for the recently injured Rosie Napravnik.
The only other graded stakes winner in the field is Embellishing Bob, who was elevated to first on the disqualification of Bayern in the April 26 Derby Trial at Churchill over a mile. Most recently, the son of Northern Afleet was no factor when seventh in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens at Belmont.
Invading from New York is Charge Now, a Bill Mott-trained son of Tiznow who has won two of his three career outings. Also in the field are the top three finishers from the Prairie Mile -- Jessica's Star, Tairneach, and Smack Smack -- as well as the stakes-placed Six Spot and Russellin. Stepping up in class is I Got It All, a dominating stakes winner against Illinois-breds in his last two starts.
Sugar Shock, whose stakes wins this term include the Fantasy at Oaklawn, will seek to make it two in a row over the Prairie Meadows strip against seven rivals in the 1 1/16-mile Iowa Oaks. The daughter of Candy Ride rebounded from a poor effort in the Kentucky Oaks to take the $75,000 Panthers, a one-mile local prep on May 31.
Getting in with a feathery 112-pound impost is Ria Antonia, the elevated winner of last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. This will mark her first start against fillies since moving to the barn of Tom Amoss, who saddled her to a last-place finish in the Preakness on May 17. She's placed in one of four starts this year, finishing second in the Santa Anita Oaks in April when trained by Bob Baffert.
Completing the field are Grade 1-placed stakes winner Thank You Marylou, fifth in the Kentucky Oaks last time; Grade 2-placed Designer Legs, a stakes winner at Prairie Meadows last season; multiple stakes-placed Dream Spinner; and the allowance scorers Awesome Jill, Size, Tiz Windy, and Senior Prom.