By MICHAEL COMPTON
Caleb’s Posse gets his 2012 campaign underway this afternoon in New York when he headlines a compact field of six in the 37th running of the Tom Fool Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct.
The Tom Fool, a six-furlong dash on the inner track, will be Caleb’s Posse’s first start since his dynamic victory in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Although Caleb’s Posse has been based at Oaklawn Park this winter, trainer Donnie Von Hemel elected to send the 4-year-old back to New York for the Tom Fool.
“It’s perfect timing [for the Carter on April 7],” said Von Hemel, who trains Caleb’s Posse for McNeil Stables and Cheyenne Stables. “The [Tom Fool] is situated where the Carter could remain our main goal, and this race fits. We’ll go back home [to Oaklawn] after this race.”
In 2011, Caleb’s Posse won five of 10 starts, including a four-length score in the Grade 2 Amsterdam and a nose triumph over Uncle Mo in the Grade 1 Foxwoods King’s Bishop at Saratoga Race Course.
In the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Caleb’s Posse unleashed a powerful stretch run to take the race by four lengths over Shackleford.
Caleb’s Posse faces a small, but serious field for his seasonal bow. The always tough Capt. Candyman Can ships in from his Florida base following a third-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship Stakes (G2) behind Force Freeze.
Florida-bred Royal Currier also ships from Florida following a third-place effort behind Soaring Stocks in the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park.
Emcee could not have been more impressive in a first-level allowance at Gulfstream Park last time out for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and Godolphin Racing. The 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song wired the field by six lengths, recording a Beyer Speed Figure of 107 under John Velazquez.
“It’s a big step up,” admitted Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “He’s a very nice horse. We might as well find out sooner rather than later where he fits. We haven’t accomplished anything yet, so we got 114 pounds. He’s very fast, and there’s no time like the present to take a shot. We think we belong. If we don’t, we can adjust, but he’s as fast a horse as we’ve had in a long time.”
Calibrachoa won the Toboggan Stakes (G3) over the track last time out. The Repole Stable colorbearer has won nine of 19 in his career for earnings approaching $550,000. He is the defending Tom Fool champion for trainer Todd Pletcher.
“We’re happy the race is at Aqueduct on the inner track,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “The thing we’re concerned about is how he tends to run really well every other race. This would be the ‘other’ race. We haven’t been able to alter that by giving him extra time between races, so we figured we’d run here and look at the Carter. If he doesn’t run his top race here, maybe he will in the Carter, but it seems like he’s doing well and looks good.”
Caleb’s Posse, the 9-5 morning-line favorite and 122-pound highweight, will leave from post six with Rajiv Maragh aboard.
“They’ll be tough to beat, no doubt,” said Von Hemel. “There are a lot of factors in their favor. We’re happy with our horse, and it should be an interesting race.”
NYRA Press contributed to this report.