04/04/2011 12:58PM

2011 Kentucky Derby: Under the Radar - Caleb's Posse

Sunny Taylor/Coady Photography
If Caleb's Posse runs in the Arkansas Derby, it will be his 11th career start.

Some handicappers believe that experience counts, especially as it pertains to the Kentucky Derby. The theory is that a young 3-year-old must be battle-tested in order to navigate successfully a 20-horse demolition derby of horseflesh on the first Saturday in May.

Caleb’s Posse has experience. Lots of it.

If he starts, as expected, in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 16, it will be his 11th lifetime race. That’s more trips to the post than Uncle Mo (five after the Wood Memorial) and The Factor (five after the Arkansas Derby) will have combined before this year’s Run for the Roses.

Caleb’s Posse, a McNeill Stables homebred owned in partnership with Cheyenne Stables, was foaled on April 4, 2008 in Kentucky.

His sire, Posse, was a stone-cold sprinter for trainer Steve Asmussen, winning the Grade 2 Riva Ridge going seven furlongs at Belmont with a Beyer Speed Figure of 111. Posse never ran around two turns, and his lone start in a route was ugly, as he was beaten 19 1/4 lengths in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old.

Not surprisingly, Posse’s progeny have impressed at shorter distances, with champion sprinter Kodiak Kowboy his best runner to date. This must temper enthusiasm about Caleb’s Posse’s ability to succeed at 1 1/4 miles.

Caleb’s Posse may get some stamina from the bottom half of his pedigree, however. His dam, Abbey’s Missy, was winless from three starts, but her sire, Slewacide, is the broodmare sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide.

Abbey’s Missy is a half-sister to Silver Phone, a stakes-placed sprinter on both turf and dirt.

The second dam is a half-sister to Mr Ross, a millionaire that won four Grade 3 stakes at 1 1/16 miles. Mr Ross, also by Slewacide, was also a multiple stakes-winner at nine furlongs.

Trained by Donnie Von Hemel, Caleb’s Posse made his career debut on July 1, 2010, in a five-furlong maiden special weight over the polytrack surface at Arlington. He was “live” that day, despite being sent off at 20-1, but had the misfortune to run into a promising juvenile named Sherriff Cogburn. That one drew away to win by seven lengths, but Caleb’s Posse was easily second-best. Sherriff Cogburn came back from that race to take the Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile by 9 1/4 lengths in what would be his final start of the year.

The following month, Caleb’s Posse was entered in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Arlington. He caught a hot field, but was very sharp in beating his ten rivals. Sent from the gate by jockey Eddie Razo Jr., Caleb’s Posse battled for the lead while in between horses going into the turn. Unfazed by racing in tight quarters, Caleb’s Posse emerged with the lead at the eighth pole, and had enough to hold off the late run of Major Gain to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Third-finisher Theresmyeverything was privately purchased after that race, and was sent to trainer Linda Rice in New York, where he won a maiden race on the grass at Saratoga by 6 3/4 lengths.

Major Gain got his revenge on Caleb’s Posse in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity at one mile on Sept. 11 as Caleb’s Posse faltered to third after making the lead at the stretch call.

Instead of chasing bigger purses at longer distances, Von Hemel, perhaps figuring he had a sprinter/miler on his hands, dropped Caleb’s Posse in class and distance for his next start, a nonwinners-of-two allowance over the Keeneland Polytrack at six furlongs on Oct. 8.

Made the 11-10 favorite, Caleb’s Posse found a comfortable position at the back of the six-horse field, but ended up in behind horses in upper stretch. He showed his professionalism by splitting rivals at the sixteenth pole, and was up to win by a neck. It must be noted that his gallop-out wasn’t the best, and he may have been aided by a closer-friendly surface. The runner-up, Uncle Wayne, returned to finish second in the Sun Power Stakes at Hawthorne with a Beyer Figure of 76.

Von Hemel picked out a stakes opportunity for Caleb’s Posse’s next start. The colt raced in the $100,000 Clever Trevor going seven furlongs at Remington Park on Nov. 6. This was Caleb’s Posse’s first start on dirt, and he seemed to like it just fine. He tracked the pace while four wide and inherited the lead when part of the favored entry took a bad step at the quarter pole. Once in front, Caleb’s Posse was unchallenged, and he scored by 5 1/2 lengths with an 89 Beyer over runner-up Grant Jack.

Caleb’s Posse was bet to 9-10 favoritism for his next start, the $250,000 Springboard Mile at Remington on Dec. 11, but he tired badly in his two-turn debut, finishing seventh of 12 behind Grant Jack. Again, one had to wonder if the bay had distance limitations.

Caleb’s Posse proved that he could get a mile when he won the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes in his 3-year-old debut at Oaklawn on Jan. 17. He was the beneficiary of a beautiful trip as four horses banged heads on the early lead. While those runners compromised each other, Caleb’s Posse relaxed by himself behind the leaders before making a four-wide bid entering the final turn. He drew away late, and received an 86 Beyer Speed Figure.

The dream scenario of the Smarty Jones turned into a nightmare trip for Caleb’s Posse’s next race, the Grade 3 Southwest at one mile at Oaklawn on Feb. 21. Blocked for most of the stretch, Caleb’s Posse finished sixth behind Archarcharch.

In Caleb’s Posse’s most recent start, the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, he took a bump at the start, but recovered to save ground in midpack for the backstretch run. Caleb’s Posse angled four wide on the final turn, and made a strong run at pacesetting The Factor, but was rebuffed in midstretch. Caleb’s Posse finished second, but one wonders if this distance was his absolute limit.

We’ll find out more in the Arkansas Derby, as Caleb’s Posse will attempt to run The Factor down at nine furlongs. The assignments will get more difficult as the distances increase, but we have seen stranger things happen on the Derby trail, and Caleb’s Posse is a tactical, professional, and hard-trying performer.