02/04/2012 6:58PM

Oaklawn Park: Alternation begins season with stylish Essex score

Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park
Alternation strides out to his Essex win. His primary early season goal is the Oaklawn Handicap.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Alternation opened his 4-year-old season Saturday with an authoritative win in the $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park, moving past a pair of dueling leaders into the stretch and shuttling home by 3 1/2 lengths.  

“It was a good start to the year for him, and we’d love to be a participant in the Oaklawn Handicap,” said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Alternation for Pin Oak Stable.

The Essex was the second of three local preps for the Grade 2, $350,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 14. Von Hemel said Alternation could run in the next local stepping-stone, the Grade 3, $125,000 Razorback Handicap at a mile and a sixteenth on March 10, or turn up at Sam Houston for the $150,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at a mile and an eighth on March 3.

“We’ll just have to see what works out,” he said.  

Alternation ($4.20) got off to an average start from the rail in the Essex, and situated himself about five lengths behind It Happened Again and Racing Bran, who dueled through and opening quarter in 22.91 seconds and a half-mile in 46.24. Twice the Appeal moved into the front-running fray through six furlongs in 1:11.93, as Alternation advanced three wide on the final turn, overtook the leaders into the stretch, and went on to cover the mile and a sixteenth on a track rated fast in 1:44.95.

“Everything worked out good,” said Luis Quinonez, who was aboard Alternation. “They went a little fast on the front end, we settled a little bit behind them. He ran a great race.”

“It’s the kind of performance that makes you kind of start dreaming a little bit,” said Von Hemel.

Color Me Blue put in a nice bid for second, finishing 4 ¾ lengths clear of third-place finisher Twice the Appeal.

Alternation has now won 5 of 10 starts and $405,004. Last year, he won the first stakes of his career in the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont Park. He is a son of Distorted Humor.