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Prairie Meadows takes national stage with Challenge Championships

October 22, 2012     E-mail this page to a friend!

Tom Lepic of Iowa City sees history being made when the Bank of America Challenge Championships are held at Prairie Meadows this Saturday, October 27.

"I think it's the biggest equine event in the history of the state," said Lepic, president of the Iowa Quarter Horse Racing Association. "We are bringing in owners, trainers, and jockeys from all over the world. They're going to see the best Quarter Horses in the world. This is the Breeders' Cup of Quarter Horse racing here in Iowa."

The Challenge consists of six races worth more than $1 million combined and draws horses from throughout North and South America. Horses qualify for the finals by winning regional challenge races in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil.

"It's a national stage with the best competition," said trainer Ed Hardy, who will have two horses in the Challenge races. "You have horses coming from all over the country. It's pretty exciting. I think it's a good move for Prairie Meadows."

Brazil's Dash Glory Ease is expected be the first horse to make an intercontinental journey to Prairie Meadows. His 7,350-mile trip started by flying from Sorocaba, Brazil, to Los Angeles, and will conclude when he arrives in Iowa on Tuesday for the $350,000 Championship Challenge.

For Prairie Meadows, it's a chance to showcase itself nationally. Along with the Challenge races, the American Quarter Horse Association will have its four-day racing conference at Prairie Meadows' hotel and has sold out the 168-room facility from Wednesday through Saturday.

"Clubhouse reservations is getting calls every day," said Derron Heldt, Prairie Meadows' director of racing. "People from all over the country are making reservations to come here and watch the races.

"A lot of people that have not been here are coming, and it's a chance for those people to see what kind of facility we do have. Once they see how the layout is with the hotel, gaming, entertainment, horse racing and the backside facility, they'll see we have a pretty awesome facility here with everything rolled into one."

The Challenge Championships will be on closing night of the 27-day Quarter Horse meet and will highlight a final weekend with 18 stakes races worth $1.5 million combined. The weekend starts Friday with Iowa Champions Night for Iowa-breds, topped by the $127,500 Jim Bader Futurity. Then there will be 11 stakes on Saturday, capped by the six Challenge races. First post on both nights is 7:00 p.m.

"We have really good horses coming in from all over the country," Racing Challenge Chairman Darrell Hare said. "The quality of the horses is good in all the divisions. We have several horses that have won the Challenge Championships or were named AQHA champions in previous years. There are going to be headliners in each race."

Getting the Challenge to Prairie Meadows was an idea two years in the making. Lepic thought of it while racing his champion mare Spit Curl Diva in the 2010 Challenge in New Orleans. A former wrestler at Iowa, Lepic also was a Quarter Horse jockey prior to building a real estate business in Iowa City.

"When I saw the other facilities, I thought 'Prairie Meadows would blow this away,'" Lepic said. "I went to Prairie Meadows about a year ago and said, 'If we can get this, would you consider it?' Right away, Derron Heldt and (Vice President of Operations) Ann Atkin said, "You really think there's a chance?'"

Prairie Meadows quickly found out it had a big chance. Its new hotel meant that for the first time, the AQHA could have its national conference at the track playing host to the Challenge. And since Iowa is centrally located, it is convenient for trainers to send horses from Oklahoma, Texas, or Louisiana. The AQHA awarded Prairie Meadows the Challenge in December.

"It's an excellent site with outstanding facilities," Hare said. "And this year, with the addition of the hotel, really makes it a makes it a first-class destination. It's an ideal facility."

Challenge Championship highlights

The biggest race is the $350,000 Bank of America Championship Challenge for older horses at 440 yards. Four of the race's past winners were voted Quarter Horse racing's yearly World Champion—Down With Debt (1994), SLM Big Daddy (1997), Tailor Fit (2001), and Streakin Sin Tacha (2002).

This year's field is headed by Llano Teller, ranked fourth in the AQHA's top 10 poll for older horses, and Rylees Boy, who was beaten by a neck in the 2011 running of the race.

The 870-yard Red Cell Distance Challenge includes the race's past two winners in De Passem Okey and Yin Your Eyes.

Fredaville, who won two of the regional Challenges, will go in the Merial Distaff Challenge. She was second in last year’s race and has won 10-of-34 lifetime starts.

Jockey G.R. Carter, who has been named the sport’s champion jockey a record nine times, has mounts that include Llano Teller, De Passem Okey, and Fredaville.

Trainer Paul Jones, Quarter Horse racing’s leading trainer the past 11 years, is expected to send two horses for the stakes races.

Prairie Meadows will offer a Pick 4 with a guaranteed $10,000 betting pool on the final four Challenge stakes on Saturday.

Overview of Prairie Meadows’ Challenge weekend

Friday, October 26—Iowa Champions Night, with seven stakes races, including six for Iowa-breds. 7:00 p.m. first post.

Saturday, October 27—Bank of America Challenge Championships. Eleven stakes races, including the national finals of six Challenge races. 7:00 p.m. first post. The Challenge races are listed below:

Pfizer Starter Allowance Challenge, $75,000, 3-and-up, 350 yards
John Deere Juvenile Challenge (GII), $150,000, 2-year-olds, 350 yards
Adequan Derby Challenge (GII), $200,000, 3-year-olds, 400 yards
Red Cell Distance Challenge (GI), $125,000, 3-and-up, 870 yards
Merial Distaff Challenge (GI), $125,000, 3-and-up fillies & mares, 400 yards
Bank of America Challenge (GI), $350,000, 3-and-up, 440 yards