Dirt Mile: Caleb’s Posse opens with Amsterdam

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Donnie Von Hemel thought long and hard. “Good question,” he said, finally looking up from his cowboy hat. “I don’t know if I would have made the move or not.”

Caleb’s Posse, part of the Von Hemel sidecar pulled by Jim Dandy starter Alternation, upset the Amsterdam Monday with a power move on the turn. Ridden by Rajiv Maragh, Caleb’s Posse sat poised behind a wicked scramble on the lead before angling out at the head of the stretch and accelerating to an easy 4-length win over Redeemed who closed for second with Wine Police third. Caleb’s Posse finished 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.88. Owned by McNeill Stable and Cheyenne Stable, Caleb’s Posse earned his sixth victory in his 13th career start.

Von Hemel, making his first full-meet foray to Saratoga, filled in Caleb’s Posse’s name on his stall application after writing in Alternation. If it wasn’t for Alternation, would he have run Caleb’s Posse in the Grade II stakes?

Good question. Moot point.

“I think we would have looked but it would have been a tougher decision,” Von Hemel said. “I don’t know what we would have decided, but that doesn’t matter now.”


Caleb’s Posse represented Von Hemel’s third starter at the meet and second win. Alternation, who’s responsible for it all, finished fourth in the Jim Dandy Saturday.

The Amsterdam, as always, represented a confluence of 3-year-olds still searching for their niche, including To Honor And Serve who hadn’t run since finishing third in the Grade I Florida Derby. Like most of the Amsterdam starters, Caleb’s Posse had his dalliance on the Triple Crown Trail, picking up a second in the Grade II Rebel Stakes before veering off that road and picking up a win in the Grade III Ohio Derby. After finishing fourth in the Grade III Iowa Derby, Caleb’s Posse reverted to sprinting.

“Probably shows how dumb I was trying to stretch him out all the time, but that’s where the opportunities are in the spring,” Von Hemel said. “I was confident he would make a run but I didn’t know against this group of horses if it would be enough, I was a little shocked he was the longest shot on the board but the morning line was just about right, he ran super.”

Lukewarm favorite Arch Traveler shot to the lead from the rail and quickly hooked with To Honor And Serve through a quarter in 22.45 and a half in 45.01. Steve Asmussen stablemates Justin Phillips and Wine Police came next with Caleb’s Posse, Redeemed and Travelin Man hanging on the tail.

Nearing the quarter pole, everything changed. The leaders faltered and Maragh swung Caleb’s Posse from the rail to the far outside to run down Wine Police, who led briefly. Caleb’s Posse strolled to a facile score.

Cheyenne Stable’s Everett Dobson, who owns the Oklahoma City Thunder and recently invested in Three Chimney Farm’s stallions, simply followed the tour guide.

“Donnie was coming here with Alternation and we thought he had a chance in at least this race, and here we are,” Dobson said. “I give all the credit to Donnie and Don McNeil, I’m just along for the ride. I bought into him at the start of his 3-year-old year, he was raised at my little farm in Kentucky, I watched him grow up, which makes it all the more special. To see him do this today is incredible.”

Making his 13th career start, Caleb’s Posse entered the Amsterdam as the most experienced horse in the field. A son of Posse, Caleb’s Posse broke his maiden in his second start at Arlington Park last summer and won three out of his next five starts including the Clever Trevor and Smarty Jones Stakes in the midwest.

He lost his next three while trying the best 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park before winning the Ohio Derby and finishing fourth in the Iowa Derby.

Caleb’s Posse added Saratoga as his seventh racetrack visited in his 13-race career.

“He’s always been a good horse in the feedtub, likes to go out and train,” Von Hemel said. “He’s always been a Dennis The Menace around the barn, I think maybe you’ll see a little more confidence in him after a win or maybe you’re reading more into it, sometimes the trainer needs a little bit of a boost.”