August 13, 2022

Remembering Rita seeks Cornhusker repeat; Lady Apple, Ulele square off in Iowa Oaks

Grade 3 winner Remembering Rita prevailed in a March allowance at Oaklawn (Coady Photography)

Since the Cornhusker H. (G3) found a new home in Iowa more than two decades ago, no horse has ever won Prairie Meadows’ signature event more than once. Remembering Rita will aim to change that Friday night when he faces 10 others in the $300,000, 1 1/8-mile test on a stakes-laden program at the suburban Des Moines oval.

A 19-1 upset winner 12 months ago, Remembering Rita is no world-beater outside Prairie, but his affinity for the local surface makes him a serious threat to repeat. After a couple modest tries to begin his 2019 campaign, the son of Spring At Last has won or been right there in his last three tries. Beaten less than a length in the Oaklawn H. (G2) two back, he endured his first loss over the Prairie strip to Chris and Dave in the $65,000 Jim Rasmussen Memorial last time, but only by a neck.

The lukewarm morning line favorite for the Cornhusker, at 9-2, is Exclamation Point. A half-brother to 2017 juvenile champion Classic Empire, the four-year-old colt captured five of his first six starts, including four allowances. In his stakes debut in the $250,000 Oaklawn Mile on May 3, he finished a fine second to Exulting, who seeks to rebound from a nondescript seventh in the Stephen Foster (G2) for Mike Maker.

California invaders Dark Vader and Two Thirty Five finished second and third, respectively, in a one-mile allowance at Santa Anita on May 24. Both appear capable with their best, though Dark Vader has had more positive experience in stakes company thus far having missed by a neck to Prince Lucky in the $150,000 Easy Goer on last year’s Belmont Stakes undercard for Peter Eurton.

Sir Anthony upset Audible in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) in December and should appreciate the return to dirt after finishing fourth in the Hanshin Cup (G3) over Arlington’s Polytrack. Deep-closing Hence was only sixth in this event last year and, as usual, will be at the mercy of the pace.

The Cornhusker was won twice by Vale of Tears (1968-69) and Joey Bob (1972-73) at its original home, the defunct Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha, Nebraska. Prairie hosted the event for the first time in 1997, two years after Ak-Sar-Ben’s closure.

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Lady Apple and Ricardo Santana Jr. win the Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park on April 12, 2019 (c) Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park

Lady Apple figures to be a solid favorite to claim the $200,000 Iowa Oaks (G3), the night’s only other graded stakes. Winner of three straight at Oaklawn, including the Fantasy (G3), Lady Apple finished a distant third to Serengeti Empress in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) when last seen May 3.

Her primary challenger in the 1 1/16-mile heat might be Ulele, a strong second to Point of Honor in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at Pimlico in mid-May for trainer Brad Cox. Last-out Churchill allowance winner Sweet Diane has some useful form lines as well having finished third to Point of Honor in the $100,000 Suncoast at Tampa Bay Downs and third in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) two back.

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The formerly graded $250,000 Iowa Derby has attracted a competitive field of 12 to go 1 1/16 miles. Visitant is the 7-2 morning line favorite off a third-place effort behind Mucho Gusto and Roadster in the Affirmed (G3) at Santa Anita, which followed a win in the $75,000 Alcatraz at Golden Gate Fields.

Night Ops has won two of three since joining the Brad Cox barn, the lone setback being a neck loss in the $300,000 Oaklawn Invitational on May 4. Proverb was third in both the Oaklawn Invitational and Matt Winn (G3) in his last two, while Fluminense returns to dirt after being outrun in the Penn Mile (G2) on turf. Shang, Top Line Growth, and Mr Money Bags have been consistent visitors to the winner’s circle, albeit in restricted company.

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The stakes action kicks off with the $100,000 Iowa Sprint H. for older horses. Notables in the lineup include Tom Fool H. (G3) winner Do Share, most recently fourth in the Churchill Downs (G1); Grade 1-placed Seven Trumpets, making his first start since December; and stakes-placed Share the Upside, fifth as the odds-on choice in the $125,000 Aristides last out.