Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Prairie Meadows 1 Prairie Meadows Dr Altoona, IA 50009
Year Opened: 1989
Prairie Meadows in Altoona, IA offers live horse racing (thoroughbreds and quarter horses) from May through September. Post time usually begins around 6 pm, although there are earlier races on special race days. Besides the one-mile dirt horse track, the facility also has a casino on site that offers slot machines and casino game tables featuring poker, blackjack, etc. About 2.7MM people attend the races each year.
Food & Beverage 3
There are several food and beverage options available at Prairie Meadows – inside the grandstand building itself you can find a full-fledged, upscale Steakhouse called AJ’s if you are looking for a full meal, while for snacks and beer, there is Hop’s, which offers pizza slices, popcorn, chips, candy, and beef sticks, as well as beer, wine, alcohol seltzers, Monster energy drinks, water, and soda.
Outside at the track, there is a full bar, as well as two eateries, Trackside Eats and Furlong’s, which have burgers, chips, Philly cheesesteaks, and sausage, as well as all the same beverages you can get inside at Hop’s.
There is a parade ring at the track if you want to look at the horses before the race, and there are multiple seating options, including benches you can sit on, or small round tables you can stand at. There is also a raised patio which has tables with umbrellas if you want some shade, although since most of the racing is at night you probably won’t get much use out of those. Many fans also stand and watch from the rail around the track.
For wagering, there are computer terminals inside, and live attendants outside if you prefer the personal touch. The nicest feature here is that you can get close to the action, as the concourse isn’t that big, and everything is therefore close together.
There are all sorts of restaurants and hotels near the racetrack to fit any budget, as I-80 goes right by the facility, so it is in a good location – plus the attached casino is a pretty major tourist attraction in and of itself, so it a lot of the lodging and cuisine options in the area was created with the casino in mind, with racegoers getting to take advantage.
Altoona is about 15 minutes northeast of Des Moines, and if you want to try and catch another sporting event while in town, the Iowa Barnstormers of the Indoor Football League may still be in a season depending on when you go (the IFL usually has games from March thru July). There is also a sizeable antique mall (Brass Armadillo) in Des Moines if you are into that kind of thing.
There were not a ton of people there when I last visited, but you will see the facility get a little more crowded as the night goes on for Friday and Monday races – with the 6 pm start time people may not be done with work quite yet. Saturday and Sunday nights tend to be the busiest days; there is no live racing Tuesday thru Thursday.
Prairie Meadows offers free parking for all guests and the further right you can get (as you face the building) the less walking you will have to do once you enter the building, as the track’s main entrance is on the right end.
The concessions lines are pretty short both inside and on the track itself, and there are nice bathrooms inside the building. The crowds are not that heavy, and you can sit inside in-between races if you prefer.
Return on Investment 5
There is no admission cost to get into Prairie Meadows, and it only costs $4 for a program, so the only thing you may have to pay for is concessions (if you get any), and of course, the cost of any wagering you do. With free parking and free admission, this is a superb return on investment – if you have never seen any horse races I would recommend it, and this track is a great, low-key way to begin.
There isn’t a ton here at Prairie Meadows that you wouldn’t find at most any other track, but they do have some great horse racing-themed artwork on the walls as you walk thru the grandstand building, and the bugler here (unmistakable in his red attire) stands right next to the finish line, so you can get a good view and hear him very clearly – I don’t recall being able to see the bugler at the other horse racing tracks I have been to.