03/17/2009 11:00PM

Von Hemel moves summer sights to Chicago


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer Donnie Von Hemel is changing summer circuits with his deep stable that includes multiples stakes winners Going Ballistic and Euphony. He said on Wednesday that following the close of the Oaklawn meet April 11 he will head to Arlington Park. It has been more than 10 years since Von Hemel has been based in Chicago, having spent his most recent summers at Lone Star Park.

"We're going to try a little different route," Von Hemel said. "Lone Star was good to us, and we hope to race there in the future. We're just going to give it a try back up in Chicago, where we raced for a number of summers before Lone Star opened."

Von Hemel, who has a home in Oklahoma, said he would return to this region for the fall meet at Remington Park as well as the winter season next year at Oaklawn. Purses at both tracks have surged thanks to supplements from gaming, while Texas purses have remained about the same over the past several years as tracks there have not yet been able to secure alternative gaming through the state legislature.

Von Hemel's stable also includes the promising 3-year-old Poltergeist, who was third in last weekend's Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel. His next start is scheduled to come in one of two local stakes on April 11.

"We'll take a look at the Arkansas Derby and the Northern Spur," Von Hemel said. "We'll look at both of those races and make a decision."

Other promising 3-year-olds in the Von Hemel barn include Lorettine, a daughter of Grade 1 winner Confessional who won an allowance here Sunday, and Marquee Event, a half-brother to Arkansas Derby winner Gayego.

Purse incentive for final week

Oaklawn has announced a "participation bonus program" by which overnight purses the final week of the meet, April 4-11, can be increased based on field size. The program calls for a $1,000 per starter purse increase for every wagering interest greater than eight. So, a $15,000 purse would increase to $16,000 if there are nine wagering interests, and to as much as $19,000 for 12.

"We believe this will help field sizes during the Festival, and it is a way to reward those owners and trainers who race with us through the end of our season," Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope said in a release issued Wednesday.

Oaklawn refers to its final week of the meet as the Racing Festival of the South. During that period, at least one stakes a day is run on each card, with highlights being the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby and the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap.

Hotwalker writes book

There was a time when Brian Stavig was told he might not walk again after receiving severe brain and spinal injuries in a car accident. Now, he makes his living as a hotwalker. Stavig, who is based at Oaklawn, has written a book, "The Ex-Left Hander," about his road back from injuries that have left him disabled, affecting his motor skills and his gait. The physical setbacks, however, have not impacted his work with horses.

"Horses, being instinctual beings, seem to pick up that I'm not going to hurt them, I'm not a threat to them," he said. "They're going to need to be a little better around me."

Stavig, 46, was injured the summer after graduating from high school, in 1981. At the time he had planned to become a mechanical engineer after receiving academic scholarships to the University of Minnesota and Carleton College. His book chronicles growing into adulthood with his disability, from college experiences to the job market. With the publication of his first book, Stavig has found a new outlet in writing. He said he plans to work on a racing-themed screenplay later this year when he is based at Prairie Meadows.

Stones River in first Oaklawn start

Stones River, a stakes winner last year at Delaware Park, will make his Oaklawn debut Friday in the featured ninth race, a $62,500 optional claimer at a mile. The race also drew stakes winners Sebastian County and Instill.

Stones River will be making his first start since Jan. 10, when he was sixth in the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds. Terry Thompson has the mount for trainer Larry Jones.

Sebastian County is moving back to two turns following a six-furlong allowance race Feb. 19 in which he finished sixth. Larry Sterling Jr. has the mount for trainer Don Von Hemel.

DQ, fine, ban for clenbuterol

Humble Smarty, the winner of the fifth race at Oaklawn on Feb. 26, has been disqualified from the win after testing positive for clenbuterol, according to a ruling issued by stewards.

Brett Creighton, who owns and trains Humble Smarty, has been suspended 15 days through March 29 and fined $500. He did not appeal, according to stewards. The disqualification makes Jack's Lil Bit the winner of the Feb. 26 race.