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Dinny Phipps remembered: ‘He won the Triple Crown of life’

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NEW YORK — Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps was remembered during a memorial service on Tuesday as a “big man with a big heart” who “won the Triple Crown of life.”

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among those who spoke with admiration and respect for the owner and breeder of thoroughbred horses who died last Wednesday at the age of 75. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, the family said.

Bloomberg told a near-capacity gathering of about 1,000 people in St. James Church that Phipps earned “his place in the winner’s circle.

“He brought joy to so many people here,” added Bloomberg, a billionaire whose wealth is managed by Phipps’ Bessemer’s Trust. “We’ll all miss you.”

The famed cherry red and black colors of the Phipps Stable have shown up in the winner’s circle of big races hundreds of times in a history that dates to the 1920s. After 50 years in the racing business, Phipps finally won a Kentucky Derby with Orb in 2013.

Phipps never won racing’s Triple Crown – the Derby, Preakness and the Belmont Stakes – but Bloomberg said “he won the Triple Crown of life” – family, business and community.

“Then Dinny went on a victory lap,” Bloomberg added, “building a legacy in a sport that gave him so much.”

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Phipps was chairman of the New York Racing Association from 1976-1983 and head of The Jockey Club from 1983-2015. He donated generously to make racing “cleaner, safer, and better in many ways,” Bloomberg said.

Stuart Janney III, Phipps’ cousin who owned and bred horses with him – including Orb – and longtime friend Carl Navarre, also spoke at the service.

On winning the Derby, Janney said, “It was more fun to win it with Dinny and half as lucrative than to win it alone. I figured he felt the same way.”

Navarre said he first met Phipps during a fishing trip in the Florida Keys in 1975. The third day they went out, Navarre said his boat ran out of gas about 30 miles from shore and, with no radio and darkness approaching, Phipps simply “sat back in the boat, lit a cigar, and said, `You’ll figure it out.’ ”

In concluding his remarks, Navarre called Phipps “a big man with a big heart … and his passing will leave a hole in our hearts.”

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.