Caleb's Posse , winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes in January, breezed five furlongs March 12 at Oaklawn Park for regular jockey Eddie Razo Jr. in his final tune-up ahead the upcoming $300,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II).
The Rebel Stakes, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, is March 19. The Rebel is followed on the Oaklawn 3-year-old schedule by the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 16.
Caleb's Posse, a son of Posse owned by McNeill Stables and Cheyenne Stables, went to the track for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel. The conditioner was hoping to see some zip through the stretch following Caleb's Posse's troubled fourth-place finish in the Feb. 21 Southwest Stakes (gr. III).
The team was smiling after Caleb’s Posse posted five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 on the fast track.
"I wanted to see a little more from him through the lane today," said Von Hemel. "I got him starting off in like 37 and change but the last part in 24 and change and galloping out in 12 and change for the last part. He was really nice down the lane. Now we just have to get up to next week healthy and have some fun."
"He's mentally getting better with each thing he does," said Razo. "With these 3-year-olds, sometimes that doesn't always happen. They can get this far and go either way. He is going the right way and feels competitive. He's making me really confident and relaxed. He's relaxed and I'm relaxed and that's a good feeling. He's doing everything and I'm just a passenger."
The Rebel would be Caleb's Posse's ninth career start, with four wins already in the books. The frustrating trip in the Southwest was a useful learning experience, but Von Hemel says he would like to see how Caleb's Posse fits with top-level rivals.
"Racing luck is going to be the biggest key for everybody at this point," he said. "I've got a horse who is already fairly seasoned. At this point, I'm hoping there's a happy medium between a race where we can't find out how we fit and a 14-horse scramble."
Von Hemel plans to work his other Rebel contender, Pin Oak Stable's Alternation, March 13 at Oaklawn. The 49-year-old conditioner and his family are major players across the Midwest and Great Plains, but it has been a little while since Von Hemel has gone this far down the Derby Trail, let alone with two horses.
"I think, when you've got a number of clients who give you the opportunities every year with these types of horses, it can be frustrating," he said. "To have a couple come along in the same year is certainly a good thing."