04/11/2011 3:48PM

Arkansas Derby looking at 13 starters

Sunny Taylor/Coady Photography
Caleb's Posse, with Eddie Razo up, wins the Smarty Jones.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Alternation on Monday was committed to the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby – making for a prospective field of 13 – while a little later the same morning probables Brethren, Dance City and Truman’s Commander arrived in town from Florida.

The Arkansas Derby will be run on Saturday, on the final card of the Oaklawn Park meet. Entries for the race are Wednesday. The maximum field size is 14. Others expected to start as of Monday were Archarcharch, Caleb’s Posse, Elite Alex, J P’s Gusto, J W Blue, Nehro, Saratoga Red, Sway Away, and The Factor.

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Alternation is one of two probables for trainer Donnie Von Hemel. Caleb’s Posse, who was second to The Factor in last month’s Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn, is also likely to start for the barn, with the outside chance remaining that he could go in the Grade 2 Lexington at Keeneland on April 23. The decision on Alternation was made after training on Monday.

“He’s doing everything the way we wanted to see,” said Von Hemel.

Alternation was scratched from the Rebel after he reared in the starting gate and sat down. He emerged from the incident without injury, and has since been working regularly at Oaklawn.

“He was off his feed a couple of days, was missing some hair on a front leg and hind leg,” Von Hemel said. “But he has really gotten back into his training well, and has been schooling regularly in the gate and the paddock, and we’re really happy with him right now.”

Alternation came into the Rebel off three consecutive route wins, one of them an allowance over Elite Alex on the opening card of the Oaklawn meet Jan. 15. Luis Quinonez has the mount on Alternation for the Arkansas Derby, while Eddie Razo will ride Caleb’s Posse.

Blinkers on for Brethren

Brethren, who was third in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in his last start March 12, will add blinkers for the Arkansas Derby, said his trainer, Todd Pletcher. The horse is one of at least four starters in the race expected to be adding blinkers. The others are Elite Alex, J P’s Gusto, and Sway Away.

Pletcher worked Brethren in a set of full-cup blinkers April 3 at Palm Meadows, but thought the horse was too aggressive. He pared down the cup size for an April 9 work, and found a better kind of “fit” for the horse, who is a half-brother to last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver.

“We cut the blinkers back a little bit, he seemed to be a bit more settled,” said Pletcher. “We think he’s a little more settled with the cutback blinkers and a little more focused than he is without them.”

Pletcher will also have Dance City in the Arkansas Derby. He won his maiden at 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park in January, then came back and took a first-level allowance at the track March 19. Dance City will be making his stakes debut in the Arkansas Derby.

“Obviously stepping up,” Pletcher said, “but he always trained like a good horse.”

Brethren and Dance City arrived on the Oaklawn backstretch a little after 11:30 a.m. Central on Monday. They flew into Little Rock, Ark., from Florida, then took an hour van ride to Oaklawn. Truman’s Commander, a maiden winner, joined the pair for trainer Nick Zito.

Belle Watling arrives from Florida

Belle Watling, the accomplished Chilean mare now based in the United States with trainer Patrick Biancone, also was aboard the flight from Florida. She is in town for the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on Friday, according to officials with Oaklawn.

Havre de Grace is co-highweighted at 119 pounds for the Apple Blossom with Switch, who was due to arrive Tuesday from Southern California. Belle Watling will get in at 114 pounds. The race is also expected to draw Miss Match (116) and Absinthe Minded (112). Blind Luck, who had been under consideration for the race, will not start, according to her trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer.

Biancone has informed Oaklawn racing officials that Hector Berrios, who rode Belle Watling in Chile, is to be aboard for the Apple Blossom. The rider will be reuniting with the mare for the first time since October.

Kentucky Oaks next for Joyful Victory

Joyful Victory remains on deck for the Kentucky Oaks after emerging from her Sunday win in the Grade 2, $300,000 Fantasy in good order, said her trainer, Larry Jones. She is scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs following the close of the Oaklawn meet April 16.

Arienza, who finished second in the Fantasy, also came out of the race well and remains under consideration for the Oaks, her trainer, Dan Peitz, said on Monday.

“My guess is we’ll probably go on and at least go to Churchill and figure it out,” he said. “She’ll tell us.”

Arienza is a daughter of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri.

– additional reporting by David Grening

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