06/02/2011 1:21PM

Thistledown: Caleb's Posse fresh for Ohio Derby

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Caleb’s Posse ran in every 3-year-old stakes at Oaklawn Park this winter, winning the Smarty Jones and finishing second in the Rebel while not faring nearly as well in the Southwest and Arkansas Derby. That full dance card led trainer Donnie Von Hemel to back off a bit once the Oaklawn meet ended in mid-April.

“We gave him a little breather, with the thought we’d like to point to some of these other races in the Midwest with him,” Von Hemel said. “So we’re going to Ohio with him.”

The campaign moves Saturday to Thistledown in the Cleveland suburb of North Randall, where Caleb’s Posse is listed as a lukewarm 3-1 morning-line favorite among a field of 10 3-year-olds in the 77th running of the Grade 3, $100,000 Ohio Derby. Veteran jockey Eddie Razo will be aboard when Caleb’s Posse breaks from post 1 in the 1 1/16-mile Ohio Derby.

Several other shippers look similarly live, including a handful from Kentucky – and Wilkinson, a Lemon Drop Kid colt briefly considered for the Belmont Stakes, clearly is one of those. Based at Churchill Downs with trainer Neil Howard, Wilkinson comes off a sharp allowance victory in a short field of older horses. Before that, he was found wanting when tried in the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass Stakes.

“That allowance race seemed to do something for his confidence, and we didn’t feel like the time was right to try some of the top, top horses,” said Howard, who trains Wilkinson for the Gaillardia Racing LLC of E.K. Gaylord. “This seemed like the more prudent way to go, so we’ll hope for the best Saturday.”

Another well regarded Churchill shipper is Le Mans, trained by Steve Asmussen. Le Mans is one of two Ohio Derby runners entered off a maiden victory, with the other being Global Power, an April 30 winner at Belmont Park for trainer Chad Brown.

El Grayling and Goodtimehadbyall are the other Kentucky invaders.

Four local runners round out the Ohio Derby cast: Valient Tenobob, Picaroo, Marco’s Fling, and Irish Lion.

The Ohio Derby, first run in 1876, long has been the richest and most prestigious race in Ohio and was worth $350,000 as recently as 2006. But changes involving dates and distance – not to mention sizable cuts in the purse – have rendered it less relevant on the national racing calendar, although Thistledown officials have said they hope to return it soon to the prominence it held when captured by such standouts as Smarten (1979), Skip Trial (1985), Broad Brush (1986), and Skip Away (1996).

The Ohio Derby goes as the eighth of nine Saturday races. First post is 2:30 p.m. Eastern, with the Ohio Derby going at about 5:50.