01/18/2011 4:29PM

Von Hemel's 3-year-olds deliver at Oaklawn

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Sunny Taylor/Coady Photography
Caleb's Posse will be nominated to both the Southwest at Oaklawn and the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – The 3-year-olds that trainer Donnie Von Hemel put on the track over opening weekend at Oaklawn Park performed like they worked for the postal service. They delivered despite snow, rain, and fog.

Oaklawn Park battled all of those conditions last week, losing Friday’s opening-day program to the lingering effects of a snowstorm, and then having fog settle over the oval for the Monday card.

Caleb’s Posse burst through Monday’s dense fog to win the $100,000 Smarty Jones from off the pace, earning a Beyer Figure of 78. He emerged from his near three-length win in good order, Von Hemel said on Tuesday, and plans are to nominate him for two stakes in the region. Caleb’s Posse’s next-race options are the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest at a mile at Oaklawn on Feb. 21, and the Grade 2, $300,000 Risen Star at 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds on Feb. 19.

Alternation’s name will also make both nomination sheets after he edged Elite Alex, the favorite who encountered significant trouble at the start, and Commander, in a competitive first-level allowance on Saturday. Alternation was facing winners for the first time in the one-mile race, and closed from next to last for a head win in a three-way photo. He also earned a Beyer Figure of 78.

“He showed some grit, I thought, being in between both those horses down the lane and prevailing in the end,” said Von Hemel. “Certainly the horse that was second had an excuse for the way he came out of the gate and all, so he was compromised. But I wouldn’t take anything away from my horse. Like I said, he hung in there and showed some real determination.”

Von Hemel said the mile and a sixteenth distance of the Risen Star is his first preference for Alternation, but added that “staying at home would not be a bad deal, either.”

Alternation is by Distorted Humor. His dam, the multiple stakes winner Alternate, is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Peaks and Valleys.

Elite Alex sustains small wound

Elite Alex had a difficult start in the Saturday allowance but was just beaten a head at the wire. He stumbled away from the gate, spotted the field a number of lengths, and came out of the race with a small puncture wound in his left leg as well as a bruise on his heel, according to his trainer, Tim Ritchey.

“He peeled the skin a little bit behind his pastern, and just grabbed himself enough above the coronet band that he put a little puncture wound that we had to put some stitches in,” Ritchey said on Tuesday. “The good thing is he jogged today. He was able to go back to the track and jogged two miles. So, he’s hitting the ground sound on it. That’s a very positive thing there.

“It could have been a lot worse.”

Ritchey said Elite Alex could make his next start in the Southwest, depending on how he comes along leading up to the race. Elite Alex was making just his second career start in Saturday’s allowance. He had won his maiden in a five-furlong race at Delaware Park back in July.

Commander came out of the allowance in good order, said his trainer, Larry Jones. He finished a neck behind Alternation.

Meet business off to good start

Oaklawn averaged 13,825 patrons a program during its three-day opening weekend. Handle on the track’s live races from all sources averaged $2,791,926 a card. Last year, the track had a four-day opening weekend, but this year inclement weather forced the cancellation of its opening day card Friday.

“We couldn’t be happier with how the meet is starting off, especially considering that we were dealing with a frozen track and six inches of snow at this time last week,” said David Longinotti, assistant general manager of racing for Oaklawn. “Our whole team came together to make this weekend a success.”

The track’s biggest day was its opener on Saturday, which drew 20,176 patrons. Betting on the nine-race card from all sources was $3,992,109.