01/11/2012 4:50PM

Oaklawn Park: Caleb’s Posse sets sights on Met Mile

Barbara D. Livingston
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Caleb's Posse could make his 2012 debut in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Some big decisions concerning the most accomplished horse stabled on the Oaklawn Park grounds will come down Monday night.

While the connections of Caleb’s Posse are attending the Eclipse Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., owners Don McNeill and Everett Dobson and trainer Donnie Von Hemel will be plotting the course they will take to get Caleb’s Posse to his first major objective of the year, the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park in May.

The route could very well go through Oaklawn Park, where Caleb’s Posse launched his 3-year-old campaign a year ago with a win in the $100,000 Smarty Jones. He went on to take the Grade 2 Amsterdam, the Grade 1 King’s Bishop over champion Uncle Mo, and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in a 5-for-10 campaign last year in which he banked $1 million. Following the Breeders’ Cup, Caleb’s Posse was given 40 days off at Candy Meadows Farm in Lexington, Ky. He returned to Oaklawn on Dec. 10.

“He’s happy and healthy,” Von Hemel said. “We won’t be running him anytime soon, but he thinks he ought to. The Met Mile is what we kind of have in mind, and we’re trying to decide what one or two races we want to use to get there.”

Von Hemel said high on the list of options is the Grade 3, $200,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, a six-furlong race that will be run on the final day of the Oaklawn meet April 14. Down the road, there has been some discussion of trying Caleb’s Posse on turf, Von Hemel said.

Caleb’s Posse, who is an Eclipse Award finalist for 3-year-old and champion sprinter, is the first horse Von Hemel has had in the running for a championship, and he said his wife, Robin, and their 13-year-old daughter, Tess, will be in attendance at the awards ceremony Monday. His family was with him at the Breeders’ Cup, when Caleb’s Posse came charging through the stretch to win the Dirt Mile by four lengths, with a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 111.

“It’s been quite a fun ride,” Von Hemel said.

Von Hemel has 40 horses in training at Oaklawn, including Alternation, winner of the Grade 2 Peter Pan last May at Belmont Park. Alternation worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.20 on Tuesday and could make his 4-year-old debut next month, Von Hemel said.

“We’re looking toward the Essex here in February,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping to get ready for, anyway.”

The Essex, a $100,000 race for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 4, is a stepping-stone to the Grade 2, $350,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 14. The Oaklawn is a long-range goal for Alternation.

Von Hemel said She’s All In, who has won her last four races, including three stakes, is on deck for the $75,000 Pippin for fillies and mares on Jan. 21.