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AP DERBY TOP 10: It’s still Nyquist, of course

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NEW YORK — And now, a few words about undefeated horses running in the Kentucky Derby – Nyquist, specifically.

After the 3-year-old colt blew away now once-beaten Mohaymen in winning the Florida Derby on Saturday, Nyquist boosted his record to 7-for-7.

The son of Uncle Mo again proved more than worthy of his No. 1 spot on the AP’s Top 10 list of Kentucky Derby contenders. He’s also the 3-1 favorite in the Derby’s final future wager odds.

As for becoming an unbeaten Derby winner, Nyquist will be bucking longer odds. Of the 26 unbeatens that entered the Derby starting gate in the past 100 years, seven were still undefeated after the Run for the Roses. That would put Nyquist’s odds of winning a little better than 4-1.

Nyquist, though, will be the first horse taking a 7-0 or better record into the Derby in 26 years – since Mister Frisky ran eighth in 1990 after winning 16 in a row (the first 13 in Puerto Rico). Big Brown in 2008, Barbaro in 2006 and Smarty Jones in 2004 all won the Derby, but came into the race with six or fewer wins.

Seattle Slew remains the only undefeated Triple Crown winner, coming into the races at 6-0 and then sweeping the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1977.

The other unbeaten Derby winners are Majestic Prince (1969), Morvich (1922) and Regret (1915).

RELATED: How to watch the Kentucky Derby

Onward to May 7.

Even with a fourth-place finish, Mohaymen still has five wins in six starts and doesn’t lose much ground this week, dropping one spot to No. 3. Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner moves up to No. 2, and Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert has No. 4 Cupid and No. 7 Mor Spirit.

Huge changes are likely after Saturday’s trio of Derby preps – Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

All three carry a total of 180 Derby qualifying points – 100 for first, 50 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth. Finish first or second – maybe even third – and a spot in a full 20-horse field is all but set.

-The Wood features undefeated Shagaf (3-0) in a field that could total 10.

-The Santa Anita Derby will have a small but deep field in Danzing Candy, Mor Spirit and Exaggerator. Danzing Candy beat Mor Spirit in the San Felipe last month.

-The Blue Grass field keeps growing, with as many as 13 starters possible. Among them are Zulu, Brody’s Cause and American Dubai.

Wrapping up last weekend’s preps:

-The rare pre-Derby duel between best in the East (Mohaymen) and best in the West (Nyquist) was brief – and decisive. A brilliant ride by Nyquist jockey Mario Gutierrez appeared the big reason.

With Mohaymen racing outside of Nyquist, Gutierrez allowed Nyquist to drift further out coming around the far turn. That forced Junior Alvarado aboard Mohaymen even further outside toward the center of the track. At that point, Nyquist pulled away and beat Majesto by 3 1/4 lengths.

“I saw the gray horse (Mohaymen) coming and I decided if he was going to pass me,” Gutierrez said, “he was going to do it running wide.”

-At Turfway Park, 23-1 shot Oscar Nominated prevailed in the Spiral Stakes to earn 50 Derby qualifying points. Problem is he’ still not Triple Crown nominated. However, owner Ken Ramsey says the supplemental entry fee of $200,000 will be paid. He now tells the Courier-Journal that someone has accepted his offer and stepped forward to pay the fee for a chance to split any earnings the horse gets from Triple Crown races.

Here’s our Top 10:

1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): Won Florida Derby with ease over chief rival Mohaymen. … Will be first Derby starter unbeaten in seven or more starts since Mister Frisky in 1990. … Arrived at Keeneland to train. … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7. … Derby odds (final future wager): 3-1.

2. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Louisiana Derby winner may have what it takes to deal with big Derby field. … Worked 4 furlongs in 50.60 under Geroux at Churchill Downs on Monday. … Has four wins in five races. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 25-1.

3. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Don’t give up on this talented gray colt. … Just didn’t kick in when taking on Nyquist in Florida Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

4. Cupid (Bob Baffert, Martin Garcia): Rebel winner loving Santa Anita before return to Arkansas. … Won last two starts after two career-opening losses. … Next start: Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, April 16. … Odds: 11-1.

5. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise Jr., Mike Smith): San Felipe winner has chance to move up with win this weekend. .. Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 at Santa Anita on Saturday. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita Park, Saturday. … Odds: 16-1.

6. Shagaf (Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz Jr.): A Wood win and colt would come into Derby with 4-0 record. … Gotham winner worked 4 furlongs in 48.40 at Belmont on Saturday. … Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, Saturday. … Odds: 17-1.

7. Mor Spirit (Baffert, Gary Stevens): Looking to avenge San Felipe loss. … With Cupid and Mor Spirit, Baffert could have another 1-2 Derby punch. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby. … Odds: 11-1.

8. Lani (Mikio Matsunaga, Yutaka Take): UAE Derby winner settling in at Churchill Downs. … Bred in Kentucky, races in Japan. Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 25-1.

9. Destin (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Tampa Bay Derby winner looking to make it three in a row with win in final Derby prep. … Next start: Arkansas Derby … Odds: 16-1.

10. Zulu (Pletcher, John Velazquez): Fountain of Youth runner-up worked 4 furlongs in 49.07 at Palm Beach Downs on Saturday. … Next start: Blue Grass, Keeneland, Saturday. … Odds: 34-1.

**Keep an eye on: Brody’s Cause, Exaggerator, Mo Tom, Outwork, Whitmore.**

 

Wood Memorial boosts purse to attract top horses

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NEW YORK — The Wood Memorial purse could increase to $1 million as part of a bonus created to entice the top 3-year-olds to run in the Kentucky Derby prep on April 7.

New York Racing Association officials said Saturday that the presence of any horse in the field with a previous Grade 1 or Group 1 victory would increase the purse from $750,000 to $1 million if the qualifying horse starts. In that case, the winner would receive $590,000, the runner-up would earn $190,000 and third would be worth $90,000.

The Wood is run at 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct. The race is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby prep series that awards 100 points to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth. The top 20 horses on the leaderboard earn starting spots in the Derby on May 5.

Jack Van Berg dies at 81

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Jack Van Berg, a Hall of Fame trainer who oversaw Alysheba to victories in the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, died Wednesday. He was 81.

He died in a Little Rock, Arkansas, hospital, according to a spokeswoman for Oaklawn Park, where Van Berg had relocated his training base after leaving Southern California in 2013. No cause was given.

Van Berg ranks fourth all-time among trainers in North America, with 6,523 victories from 41,164 starts, according to Equibase. He had career purse earnings of $85,925,482.

In the Derby, Alysheba and jockey Chris McCarron were nearly knocked down at the top of the stretch by Bet Twice. Alysheba recovered and won despite having just one career victory before the Run for the Roses. Alysheba won the Preakness to set up a try for the Triple Crown but finished fourth in the Belmont.

As a 4-year-old, Alysheba won the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic and went on to earn the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.

Van Berg saddled Gate Dancer to victory in the 1984 Preakness. That same year, he earned the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer.

Van Berg was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985. His father, trainer Marion Van Berg, already was there, having entered in 1970.

From 1959-77, Van Berg was the leading trainer at Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1976, he won a record 496 races and was the nation’s leading trainer, with $2,976,196 in purse earnings.

In 1987, Van Berg became the first trainer to win 5,000 races when he saddle Art’s Chandelle to victory at Arlington Park outside Chicago.

He trained in Southern California for 41 years until moving to Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Arkansas, after Hollywood Park closed in December 2013. Van Berg blamed the cities of Inglewood and Los Angeles and the state of California for the track’s closure.

“I just think it’s a pathetic thing,” he said at the time. “It’s ridiculous to let something like this that so many people love and thrive on close. They did everything they could to kill racing. I’ve had enough. I don’t like California racing anymore. I don’t like the way they run it and what they do.”

Van Berg mentored Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who began as an assistant to him.

Born June 7, 1936, in Columbus, Nebraska, John Charles Van Berg began training for his father in the 1960s. The elder Van Berg trained nearly 1,500 winners but was more successful as an owner, winning 4,691 races and $13,936,965. He was the first inductee of the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame, and his son followed him.