Will Caleb's Posse shine in Met Mile?
Sports can make justice vivid. That's part of their appeal. Bad bounces, blown calls, inhospitable weather, contrary circumstances, slips and trips can all, yes, influence and even determine an outcome. But, for the most part, these things balance out so that sports offer the nearest thing to a meritocracy as you're likely to see.
That's why Caleb's Posse is such an intriguing riddle. He hasn't received what he deserves, not in a while anyway. But if these scales inevitably balance, that could change Monday, and Caleb's Posse could get exactly what he deserves in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.
One of the most appealing things about horse racing, as trainer Steve Asmussen once put it, is that it isn't figure skating. In other words, multiple judges, with their personally quantified evaluations of a performance, don't determine the winner; in horse racing, the horses determine the outcome, or at least that's usually the way it works.
"I was just honored to be involved in the voting," said his trainer, Donnie Von Hemel. "If a few votes had gone the other way, it could have been different, but win or lose the Eclipse Award, Caleb's Posse had an outstanding season, and he proved he's a terrific horse."
Eclipse voting, as it often does, emphasized the Breeders' Cup races, the sport's championship event, but the final voting, or thinking, seemed somewhat inconsistent. Hansen for example, was named the champion 2-year-old based on his narrow victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But the horse that turned in what was arguably the finest performance of the Breeders' Cup, Caleb's Posse, didn't win an award.
Some of the Eclipse voting, Von Hemel conceded, seemed rather fickle and some of the voters uninformed. But the trainer laughed it off because, well, in the end the scales will balance, right?
In March, in his seasonal debut, Caleb's Posse rallied wide from last, ran a final quarter-mile in about 23 seconds, and lost the Tom Fool Handicap by a neck to Calibrachoa. Both horses ran exceptionally well, but the six furlongs, Von Hemel said, might have been "a little short," for Caleb's Posse.
And then last month, in the Carter Handicap, also at Aqueduct, Caleb's Posse gave one of the best performances of the year by a runner-up. The Aqueduct surface seemed to favor speed; four of the seven winners of one-turn races that day led throughout. A horse of considerable quality, Shackleford, got the early Carter lead in casual fractions, 46.98 for the opening half-mile. And Caleb's Posse again rallied from last, through traffic, altering course in the stretch and running the final three furlongs, amazingly enough, in 34.74 seconds to finish a nose behind Jackson Bend.
"If he keeps running like that for the rest of the year," Von Hemel said about Caleb's Posse, "everything will be fine. You lose a photo here, but then you win one there. It'll balance out."
Such an abiding faith in the sport's system of justice comes from 28 years of training horses. That's a career with enough photo finishes to fill a scrapbook, including Alternation's nose victory in the recent Pimlico Special. Perhaps these things do balance out, and maybe even on Monday, in the Metropolitan Handicap.
One of the nation's most prestigious stakes, the Met Mile has been won by such greats as Equipoise, Stymie, Tom Fool, Native Dancer, Kelso, Buckpasser, Forego, Holy Bull and Ghostzapper. In this 116th Metropolitan, Shackleford, Jackson Bend, Saginaw, Caixa Electronica, To Honor And Serve and, of course, Caleb's Posse will attempt to add their names to an illustrious list of winners. It's not figure skating, and chances are good that the most deserving horse will win.
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