Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel rolled out his barn’s top runners on successive mornings at Oaklawn with a pair of them landing the “bullet” designation as the fastest of the morning at their distance.
It started Tuesday morning when Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Caleb’s Posse drilled five furlongs in 59 4/5 seconds as he prepares to head back to New York for the Carter Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct April 7. Wednesday, Graded-stakes placed Hearts on Fire went a half-mile in 48 4/5 with a possible start here in the Carousel Stakes or the Redbud Stakes on her agenda April 12 during the Racing Festival of the South. Razorback Handicap (G3) winner Alternation breezed Thursday morning, going five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. His time was the third-fastest of the morning as he aims for his third stakes win this season in the $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 14.
For Caleb’s Posse, the goal was maintenance according to Von Hemel. The son of Posse was second in his seasonal debut in the Tom Fool Handicap (G3) last time out at six furlongs. The Carter adds another furlong as well as stiffer competition for the Cheyenne Stable and McNeil Stables’ color-bearer.
“You’re always trying to make it to the next race, first and foremost,” said Von Hemel. “In this work, we knew he needed to do something pretty good and we got it. We don’t need any more speed works from him at this point.”
Caleb’s Posse will van to Memphis, then get the equine equivalent of a FedEx barcode, taking an air freight flight to Newark, N.J. in a cargo hold filled with everyone’s absolutely, positively, get-there-overnight packages. Of course, he will be in a specially designed horse palette and not a really big envelope. Those shipping plans are the same as when he just missed catching Aqueduct horse-for-the-course Calibrachoa by a diminishing amount in the Tom Fool last month.
Nolan Creek Farm’s Hearts On Fire is trying to bounce back from a third-place finish in a stakes-caliber allowance March 15 at 1 1/16th miles. Prior to that, she finished fourth while sprinting in the Spring Fever Stakes. The $75,000 Carousel offers another chance to sprint while the $100,000 Redbud on the same card is at 1 1/16th miles. Depending on weight assignments, the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap could also be an option for the 4-year-old daughter of Lion Heart during the Racing Festival on April 13.
Alternation took his turn Thursday morning, and while his five-furlong breeze didn’t earn black-type on the worktab, it did please Von Hemel with the way it unfolded.
“I was happy with it because he probably started off going about 25 for the first quarter but was really picking it up down the lane,” he said. “He was wearing blinkers, but he was still nice and relaxed. That was the test this morning. To see if he could stay relaxed until we asked him.”
Owned by Pin Oak Stable, Alternation has appeared dominant in his two stakes wins, coming from off the pace in the Essex Handicap then taking advantage of a slow pace and wiring the Razorback last time. More out-of-town runners are expected to test him in the Oaklawn Handicap, including Donn Handicap (G1) winner Hymn Book and possibly Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Ron the Greek or even last year’s Horse of the Year Havre de Grace if her connections like the weight assignments against males better than her handicap in the Apple Blossom.
The Mallard Man Hunts For Arkansas Breeders’ Cash
Five Star Racing Stable’s The Mallard Man has been biding his time waiting for his big chance to shine among his fellow Arkansas-breds. That chance is scheduled to arrive Sunday in the $50,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes at Oaklawn, the race he won last year.
“He’s had a lot of issues, and until now we haven’t felt like he was 100 percent,” said trainer Al Cates. “He’s doing super.”
The issues included getting sick earlier this winter and having to wait for the right races to fill at the right times. That combination led to starting the year in the Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes at six furlongs and running into uber-Arky-bred Comedero at his favorite distance. The Mallard Man rallied well up the rail and was nodded back to third. In his follow up start, he jumped into a stakes caliber allowance race, but jumped the wrong way at the start and could only chase Racing Bran and Kate’s Main Man home in sixth.
“I really needed him to get that last race,” said Cates. “The start happened and that made it look worse, but the main thing was that he needed the race bad. Now hopefully we’re going into this race the way we need to.”