06/10/2011 4:15PM

Arlington Park: Von Hemel thriving as road warrior


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Trainer Donnie Von Hemel has more wins in 3-year-old graded stakes during the last month than in any kind of race at Arlington Park’s 2011 meet. Alternation won the Grade 2 Peter Pan on May 14 at Belmont, and Caleb’s Posse the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 4 at Thistledown. Meanwhile – and in stark contrast – Von Hemel still is looking for his first win of the Arlington season after sending out 26 starters at the meet.

“Things will come around,” Von Hemel said with a laugh.

It’s easier for a trainer to take the inevitable losing streak when one has good stakes horses in the barn. Alternation would have been a top-five betting choice in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes had Von Hemel and owner Pin Oak Stable elected to run, but after shipping Alternation back to Arlington following his determined win in the Peter Pan, and putting him through a snappy five-furlong workout on May 27, the decision was made to wait for races later in the summer.

“He’s been training fine,” Von Hemel said of Alternation’s recent daily activity. The decision to pass the Belmont had less to do with Alternation’s physical condition than with a desire to have a fresh horse later in the year. “It was more a factor of wanting to focus on maybe the Jim Dandy and the Travers and have a horse that’s rested and can run through those races in the latter part of the summer. We had an opportunity to give him a little bit of a break before we go into that part of the year.”

Von Hemel mentioned the Haskell Invitational and the West Virginia Derby as other possible spots for Altnernation, but conceded he and Pin Oak might be leaning toward starts at Saratoga.

Caleb’s Posse, meanwhile, is headed the other direction, west, following his late-running score in the Ohio Derby. The $250,000 Iowa Derby on June 25 at Prairie Meadows is the intended spot for Caleb’s Posse, who won the $100,000 Smarty Jones and finished second to The Factor in the Southwest Stakes earlier this year at Oaklawn. As far back as last summer, Von Hemel was wondering if Caleb’s Posse, a son of Posse, could be effective at distance even as long as a mile, but he rated nicely behind a fast pace in the two-turn, 1 1/16-mile Ohio Derby, and has proven capable over middle distances around two turns.

“A mile to a mile and a sixteenth anything there is fine for him,” Von Hemel said. “He’s really learned to relax well, but he still has enough zip that he can be up there close if he needs to.”

Working for Hops has options

Workin for Hops, the sharp winner of the Hanshin Cup here May 21 in his most recent start, could surface next in any of three spots, trainer Mike Stidham said Friday. Under consideration are the $100,000 J. Kenneth Self Shelby County Boys and Girls Club Stakes (the 1-9 favorite to win 2011’s Most Awkardly Named Race award) on June 22 at Indiana Downs, the $250,000 King Edward Stakes on June 25 at Woodbine, and the $175,000 Firecracker Handicap on July 4 at Churchill.

“We’re keeping our options open, looking for the easiest spot for the most money,” Stidham said.

Workin for Hops turned in a near-bullet half-mile work in 48 seconds on June 4, his first breeze since winning the Hanshin. Willcox Inn, a good-looking winner of the Arlington Classic, is scheduled to have his first breeze since racing on Saturday morning, Stidham said. Willcox Inn is scheduled to make his next start in the American Derby here July 9.

◗ Corey Nakatani has needed no adjustment period since coming to Arlington last month. Nakatani has ridden seven winners from his first 28 mounts and already has risen to 11th in the jockey standings.