11/06/2011 10:49AM

Breeders' Cup: Caleb's Posse enters debate for season's champion 3-year-old

Tom Keyser
By winning his fourth graded stakes of the season in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, Caleb's Posse has become a serious candidate for champion 3-year-old.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There will be a healthy debate for championship honors in many divisions, especially among the high-profile 3-year-old males which may have welcomed a new contender for the title Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Caleb’s Posse won his fourth graded stakes of the year when he blew past virtually the entire field in the stretch to win the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile by four lengths. He ran a mile in 1:34.59 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 111. Caleb’s Posse has 5 wins, a second and a third from 10 starts this year.

 After the Dirt Mile victory and before the Breeders’ Cup Classic was run, Donnie Von Hemel, the trainer of Caleb’s Posse, was talking about how his horse should be considered for the Eclipse Award in the sprint division. But after the Breeders’ Cup Classic - in which the best finish by a 3-year-old was Ruler On Ice’s third-place finish -  Von Hemel on Sunday morning said his horse now should be a serious candidate for North America’s leading 3-year-old.

 “I think he was the fastest 3-year-old at the Breeders’ Cup,’’ said Von Hemel, who trains Caleb’s Posse for Don McNeill and Everett Dobson. “He ran a very, very powerful race. After I saw how things developed I don’t know why he wouldn’t be as strong a candidate as any of them.’’

Caleb’s Posse added the Dirt Mile to victories in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop and Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga. He won the Grade 3 Ohio Derby and the listed Smart Jones, both of those races were run around two turns.  His worst performance was a 12th-place finish in the Arkansas Derby.

Von Hemel said Caleb’s Posse would spend about a month at Dobson’s Candy Meadows Farm in Lexington, before heading to Oaklawn Park for the winter.

Typically, the Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old division goes to horses who  have competed in the Triple Crown series. There were three separate winners of the Kentucky Derby (Animal Kingdom), Preakness (Shackleford),  and Belmont Stakes (Ruler On Ice.).

After running second in the Belmont, Animal Kingdom finished second in the Preakness and was injured while finishing sixth in the Belmont. His other stakes win came in the Grade 3 Spiral at Turfway Park in March.

After winning the Preakness, Shackleford ran in five more graded stakes, finishing second in the Haskell, Indiana Derby,  and the Dirt Mile. He finished fifth in the Belmont and eighth in the Travers.

Dale Romans, the trainer of Shackleford, said he believes his horse should get the championship because he competed in all of major races in the division and ran well in most of them.

“He’s been so consistent all year, his efforts in all the big races have been strong, he’s a classic winner,’’ Romans said Sunday morning. “He’s got to get points for being so sturdy, showing up for every fight.’’

Romans said Shackleford would be sent to Goldmark Farm in Ocala, Fla., for a freshening and will join his south Florida stable at Palm Meadows early in 2012.

After winning the Belmont, Ruler On Ice finished third in the Haskell, fourth in the Travers, second in the Pennsylvania Derby,  and was third to Drosselmeyer in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trainer Kelly Breen confirmed that Ruler On Ice lost his right front shoe during the race.

Breen decided Sunday morning to leave Ruler On Ice in Kentucky while he and owners George and Lori Hall discuss the possibility of running the horse  in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25 or the Japan Cup Dirt on Dec. 4.

"If the Clark is something that could get us to 3-year-old or Horse of the Year and give us another feather in our cap it might make sense,’’ Breen said. “I’m going to talk to Garrett Gomez’s agent and tell him to hold a few spots.’’