The buzz earlier this year was all about Alternation.
After finishing runner-up in the 2011 Oklahoma Derby by a head, the thoroughbred trained by Remington Park's Donnie Von Hemel reeled off four straight wins in Graded stakes races.
The 4-year-old's victories included the Grade 2 $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap in Arkansas and the Grade 3 $300,000 Pimlico Special in Maryland.
Alternation was ranked as the No. 1 older horse in North America by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association heading into the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Alternation finished fifth, losing to Ron the Greek, a horse Alternation had defeated at Oaklawn.
“A clunker,” Von Hemel said of the race. “Sometimes it just doesn't come together for you.”
Now with a chink in the armor, Alternation is no longer ranked at the top. However, the Kentucky bred gets his first shot at redemption since Churchill Downs in the $200,000 Governor's Cup Saturday night at Remington Park.
The thoroughbred racing season opens Friday night at Remington Park, and Saturday night's 1 1/8 mile Governor's Cup will be the track's top race of the meet for older horses (4-year-olds and up).
Alternation has won eight times in 14 career starts, but found his stride this year as a 4-year-old, winning his first four times. While some horses are at their best as 2- or 3-year-olds, Alternation has gotten faster with age.
Alternation's only loss this year was the Stephen Foster Handicap in mid-June. Von Hemel hopes that race was an aberration as Alternation was given several weeks off to get ready for the Governor's Cup.
“It's a chance to hopefully get back on the winning note and get some confidence,” Von Hemel said of Saturday night's race. “With horses, believe it or not, confidence is a factor with them also.”
Alternation has been tabbed as a 6-5 favorite in the race. His rider will be Luis Quinonez of Jones. Quinonez is one of Remington Park's all-time leading jockeys, and he has been aboard the colt in his last six races.
If Alternation wins the Governor's Cup, he will go over $1 million in career earnings. He also needs a strong showing in the Governor's Cup to get into bigger races later this year.
“It's an important race on Saturday,” Von Hemel said. “It's significant for us because hopefully we are going to use it as a springboard to one of the Grade I races in New York in the fall.
“It's hard to take on tougher horses if you can't win this one.”