01/05/2012 2:49PM

2011 Eclipse Awards: Caleb's Posse

Coady Photography

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives,” but Caleb’s Posse certainly proved him wrong in 2011.

Caleb’s Posse began the year with designs on being a Kentucky Derby contender, a dream that stayed alive with his first start of the year, an easy victory in the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. But after he failed in subsequent preps for the Kentucky Derby, the focus changed, and by the end of the year, Caleb’s Posse was in position to claim a pair of Eclipse Awards as finalist for both champion 3-year-old male and champion sprinter.

[MORE: Complete list of 2011 Eclipse Awards finalists | Vote for Horse of the Year and win]

Caleb’s Posse’s second act was as a late-running sprinter. Sure, he was effective around two turns, adding the Ohio Derby to his victory in the Smarty Jones, but his one-turn races were devastating. Caleb’s Posse won all three of his starts around one turn, including two Grade 1 stakes, the King’s Bishop and, more significantly, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, in which he tattooed the runner-up, Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford, by four lengths.

The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile was the biggest triumph in the career of trainer Donnie Von Hemel, 50, who has won nearly 2,000 races and is the all-time leader in wins at Remington Park.

“No doubt about it, a million-dollar race on Breeders’ Cup Day,” Von Hemel said. Von Hemel trains Caleb’s Posse – a colt by Posse out of the Slewacide mare Abbey’s Missy – for Don McNeil and the Cheyenne Stables of Everett Dobson. McNeil, who also bred Caleb’s Posse, was being treated for leukemia in the fall and was forced to miss the Breeders’ Cup.

Von Hemel is based at Remington most of the year, but he winters at Oaklawn Park, where Caleb’s Posse made his first four starts of 2011. After winning the Smarty Jones, he had a horrible trip when sixth in the Southwest, was second in the Rebel to runaway winner The Factor, then never recovered from a bad start in the Arkansas Derby, beating just one of his 12 rivals.

The Triple Crown thus jettisoned, Caleb’s Posse first aimed at softer spots. He won as the favorite in the Ohio Derby, then finished fourth in the Iowa Derby. His next start changed the course of his 2011 campaign.

Sent to Saratoga, Caleb’s Posse closed furiously and then drew away for a four-length victory in the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam.

That race set up Caleb’s Posse for the seven-furlong King’s Bishop, which he won with another terrific stretch run, this time getting up in the last jump to nose out Uncle Mo, the champion 2-year-old male of 2010.

Sent around two turns yet again in the Indiana Derby, Caleb’s Posse was a non-threatening third. But he then turned back for the Breeders’ Cup and ran in the Dirt Mile after also being considered for the six-furlong Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

“We just felt we had a little more time to make our run,” Von Hemel said. Caleb’s Posse is currently at Oaklawn Park, preparing for his 2012 campaign. Von Hemel said major early-season possibilities include the Godolphin Mile in Dubai, and the Met Mile at Belmont Park.


Date Track Race Finish Chart Distance Time Beyers Video
10/5/11 CD Breeders Cup Dirt Mile 1st 1 mile 1:34.59 111 Video
10/1/11 HOO Indiana Derby 3rd 1 1/16 mile 1:43.60 92 Video
8/27/11 SAR King's Bishop 1st 7 furlongs 1:21.59 106 Video
8/1/11 SAR Amsterdam 1st 6 1/2 furlongs 1:15.88 105 Video
6/25/11 PRM Iowa Derby 4th 1 1/16 mile 1:41.73 81 Video
6/4/11 TDN Ohio Derby 1st 1 1/16 mile 1:43.12 105 N/A
4/16/11 OP Arkansas Derby 12th 1 1/8 mile 1:49.34 69 Video
3/19/11 OP Rebel 2nd 1 1/16 mile 1:42.19 92 Video
2/21/11 OP Southwest 12th 1 mile 1:38.23 78 Video

Caleb’s Posse


Breeder: Don C. McNeill 
Trainer: Donnie K. Von Hemel
Owner: McNeil Stables, LLC and Cheyenne Stables, LLC
Record: 15-7-2-2
Best Beyer: 106