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Top filly Songbird out of Kentucky Oaks with fever

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Without Songbird, the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on the day before the Kentucky Derby won’t be the same.

The undefeated star fill developed a “low grade fever” after winning the Santa Anita Oaks two weeks ago, and won’t run in the race considered the Derby for 3-year-old fillies.

Songbird has won all seven of her races with ease and would have been the overwhelming favorite for the Oaks on May 6. The 2-year-old champion and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the filly is one of the top 3-year-olds in the country – male or female.

“She will be taken care of and will go back to the track only when she is 100 percent,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday night. “We’ve got a really nice filly and I suspect she will come back later in the year.”

After her last win, owner Rick Porter Jr., reiterated he would not run his filly against the boys in the Derby. Hollendorfer, a Hall of Fame trainer, also prefers to keep his fillies from competing against males.

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Since the Santa Anita Oaks, Porter posted on his Fox Hill Farms’ Facebook page, Songbird “has not been able to go out to the track. With the fever not resolved, she was started on a course of antibiotics today (Sunday), and as a result it’ll be another 7-10 days before she’s able to return to the track.”

Porter also owned Eight Belles, the filly who finished second to Big Brown in the 2008 Derby before breaking down around the first turn after the finish and being euthanized on the track.

After Songbird’s latest win over a sloppy track, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith marveled, “She’s just incredible. I feel so blessed and I keep pinching myself, having to remind myself that I’m the one that gets to keep the weight on her. That’s really all I do.”

The news leaves the Oaks field wide open. Among the contenders are Fantasy Stakes winner Terra Promessa, Gazelle winner Lewis Bay, Fair Grounds Oaks winner Land Over Sea and Ashland winner Weep No More.

“We are sorry to have to miss the Oaks but what’s most important is to get Songbird well, and we have two great vets along with Jerry and his team taking good care of her,” Porter said.

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.