08/09/2012 2:18PM

Remington Park: Alternation, Prayer for Relief square off in Governor's Cup

Tom Keyser
Alternation starts in the Governor’s Cup off an eight-week rest for trainer Donnie Von Hemel.

Alternation, who established himself as one of the nation’s top older horses last spring, and Prayer for Relief, a multiple graded winner a year ago who recently returned to the Midwest, lead a field of five in Saturday night’s $200,000 Governor’s Cup at Remington Park.

The 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds and up is the highlight of opening weekend. It shares a card with the $100,000 David M. Vance, a six-furlong race and stepping-stone to the $200,000 Remington Park Sprint on Sept. 30.

The Governor’s Cup is something of a stepping-stone to a fall campaign for Alternation, who is ranked No. 8 among older males by Daily Racing Form ’s national handicapper, Mike Watchmaker. The horse, who would become a millionaire with a win Saturday, is 4 for 5 this year, among his scores the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap over Ron the Greek and the Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 18.

Saturday’s race will be Alternation’s first start since June 16, when he finished fifth, beaten 4 1/4 lengths by Ron the Greek in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. It was Alternation’s lone defeat against older horses in a 4-year-old campaign that began in February.

“I guess it’s hard to keep one at a high level all the time,” said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Alternation for Pin Oak Stable.

“That’s part of the reason we gave him a little more time in between starts this time – to try to get back on a winning track – and then we’ll see what to do the latter part of the year here. Like all coaches, I’m concerned with the next game. That’s where our focus is, and we’ll have plenty of time after” to plot a fall campaign.

Alternation has spent the past month at Remington, where Von Hemel has a division and where the horse won his maiden in 2010. In addition, Alternation’s regular rider, Luis Quinonez, is based at Remington, one of several reasons the Governor’s Cup is a logical start back for the horse.

“And it’s a good purse and a distance he’s very effective at,” Von Hemel said. “He’s had good works here, been raising cane in his stall, and seems to be happy and healthy and ready to go.”

Prayer for Relief will be making his first start for trainer Steve Asmussen after being based in Southern California with trainer Bob Baffert. Last year, the horse, owned by Zayat Stables, won the Grade 3 Iowa Derby, Grade 2 West Virginia Derby, and Grade 2 Super Derby. He arrived at Churchill about two weeks ago after being sent to the Midwest for races like the Governor’s Cup.

“He’s a very classy horse, easy to be around,” Asmussen said. “This is an ideal spot for him, for his ability, and we’re anxious to run him.”

Prayer for Relief last raced July 28 and finished a close sixth in the Grade 2 San Diego at Del Mar. Saturday, he will break from the rail under Mark Guidry.

“Looking at the field, he looks like he’s the pace of the race,” Asmussen said.

Prayer for Relief will tote 118 pounds under the allowance conditions, six less than Alternation, who is in at 124.

The field includes Get in Da House, the lone horse eligible for a new $20,000 owner-trainer bonus tied to competing in three major stakes at Lone Star Park and Remington, tracks owned by Global Gaming.

◗ Joe Hollywood, who two starts ago played runner-up to the Breeders’ Cup-bound Gantry in a stakes at Fair Grounds, is one of eight in the Vance. He will be making his second start off a layoff, finishing seventh last out in the $70,000 Charles Town Dash at 4 1/2 furlongs June 30.

“He’s a nice sprinter, and this looks like a good spot to get back on track,” Asmussen said. “We had a very unlucky trip with him last time. I think he’s going to rebound nicely.”

Guidry, winner of three stakes last Saturday at Louisiana Downs, has the mount.