An unusually dense fog enveloped Hot Springs, Arkansas, on Monday, probably leaving some fans wondering whether they were watching racing from Oaklawn Park or Aqueduct. The victory by McNeill Stables' CALEB'S POSSE (Posse) in the $100,000 Smarty Jones S. was clear as can be, however, as the homebred rebounded from a lethargic performance in last month's Springboard Mile at Remington Park to post a decisive 2 3/4-length win in the one-mile contest for three-year-olds.
First in a series of Triple Crown preps that includes the Southwest S. (G3), Rebel S. (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1), the Smarty Jones was not entirely visible from the stands, announcer's booth or for television viewers from the time the field entered the backstretch until they reached the quarter pole. It is known that Caleb's Posse, breaking from post 1, settled near the back as a four-way battle supremacy ensued rounding the clubhouse turn. Grant Jack (Harlan's Holiday), even-money favorite Archarcharch (Arch), Bonaroo (Dynaformer) and Bluegrass Bull (Bluegrass Cat) were all heads apart as the quarter-mile was reached in :23 3/5.
When closed-circuit cameras were next able to make sense of the field's position, Caleb's Posse had moved off the rail and was poised to make a four-wide bid around the far turn. Grant Jack and Archarcharch presumably reached the half-mile and three-quarters markers together in :47 4/5 and 1:15 1/5, but were soon overtaken by Caleb's Posse on the outside and by Bluegrass Bull, who split the two front runners approaching the quarter pole.
In the short stretch, Caleb's Posse drew off impressively as Dreaminofthewin (Successful Appeal) flew from last to grab second by five lengths over Bluegrass Bull. Archarcharch weakened to fourth and was followed by Bonaroo, Make It Roses (Suave) and Grant Jack. The final time over a good track was 1:43.
"My instructions were to just let him break and to not take him back," jockey Eddie Razo Jr. said. "He broke great. After that, I just took a nice long hold. Down the backside he was just galloping. When I got to the three-eighths pole, I knew I had it won."
Caleb's Posse returned $10.40, $5.80 and $4.40 as the 4-1 third choice. Dreaminofthewin paid $7.40 and $4.20 at 8-1, while Bluegrass Bull gave back $7.60 at 27-1. The exacta paid $74 and the 1-5-2 trifecta was worth $355.
Bred by owner Don McNeill in Kentucky and trained by Donnie Von Hemel, Caleb's Posse began his career on Polytrack at Arlington Park. After breaking his maiden in his second start, the bay finished third by a length in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3). He next took a six-furlong allowance at Keeneland by a neck, then ventured to Oklahoma where he contested both the Clever Trevor S. and Springboard Mile on dirt.
In the seven-furlong Clever Trevor, which honors McNeill's homebred star from the late 1980s, Caleb's Posse dominated his nine rivals in winning by 5 1/2 lengths. However, he inexplicably flopped as the odds-on choice in the Springboard Mile, finishing seventh by more than 11 lengths.
"To really try to explain his last race, the best I could come up with -- and I hope there's some validity to this -- is that the track was just starting to freeze and the horses who were 1-2-3 stayed 1-2-3," Von Hemel said. "Nobody ran by anybody. I think it gave us a legitimate excuse."
Caleb's Posse, whose record now stands at 7-4-1-1, $182,470, is the second winner and first stakes winner produced by Abbey's Missy (Slewacide). This is the family of Grade 2 winner Seven Rivers (Irish River [Fr]), and Mr Ross (Slewacide), a four-time Grade 3 winner at Oaklawn.