AP Derby Top 10: Nyquist is so No. 1, California horses rule

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Those California horses sure love the Kentucky Derby. And there’s not a beach anywhere near Churchill Downs — only a winner’s circle, a blanket of roses and a place in the history books.

Led by unbeaten and top-rated Nyquist, the AP’s latest Run to the Roses Top 10 features four Derby-bound 3-year-olds based at Santa Anita Park. The others are No. 3 Exaggerator, No. 4 Mor Spirit and No. 10 Danzing Candy.

For those who like the trend, there’s this: three of the last four Derby winners were based in Southern California — American Pharoah, California Chrome and I’ll Have Another.

Nyquist put his hooves in the water in South Florida for one race, and overpowered Mohaymen in the Florida Derby in a showdown of unbeatens a few weeks ago. Since then, the bay colt has been training for the Derby at Keeneland, about 75 miles from Churchill Downs.

He galloped around Keeneland on Monday morning, with a timed workout set for the end of the week. Trainer Doug O’Neill’s assistant Jack Sisterson said Nyquist “couldn’t look any better.”

Gun Runner, holding firm at No. 2 for trainer Steve Asmussen, worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 at Churchill Downs on Monday with regular rider Florent Geroux aboard.

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“I thought that he handled the racetrack very well and I’m obviously very excited about our opportunities,” said Asmussen, who also trains Arkansas Derby winner Creator — checking in at No. 9 this week. “He’s a tremendous individual as far as conformation and pedigreewise and he’s got a great attitude. He’s very energetic as far as training goes.”

The big news earlier Monday was Cupid being declared out of the Derby after coming out of the Arkansas Derby with a breathing problem known as an entrapped epiglottis. Winner of the Rebel last month, the gray colt trained by Bob Baffert finished 10th in Saturday’s race.

The Derby preps are over, and all roads lead to Louisville, Kentucky for the Derby on May 7. If more than the limit of 20 horses are entered, the field will be determined by qualifying points.

With Cupid out of the picture, Mo Tom moves into the No. 20 spot. The next horse up if another is withdrawn is Fellowship.

Here’s our Top 10:

1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): With prep season over, here’s your morning-line Derby favorite. … Resume rocks at 7 for 7, including BC Juvenile and Florida Derby. … Galloped at Keeneland on Monday. … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7. … Derby odds: 3-1.

2. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Your points leader at 151, Louisiana Derby winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 at Churchill on Monday. … Has four wins in five races. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

3. Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux): Santa Anita Derby winners have won two of last four Derbys. … Hall of Fame jockey seeks fourth Derby win. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 27-1.

4. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Triple Crown-winning trainer down to final Derby bullet after Cupid declared out. … Ran second in Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 11-1.

5. Brody’s Cause (Dale Romans, Luis Saez): If Derby front-runners tire in stretch, Blue Grass winner has a chance. … Three wins all came in state of Kentucky. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 10-1 (mutuel field).

6. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Lost his buzz after running fourth in Florida Derby. … Still has a 5-for-6 record. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

7. Outwork (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Wood winner is son of popular sire Uncle Mo. … Last Wood-Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 30-1.

8. Destin (Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Eight-week layoff for Tampa Bay Derby winner. … Has three wins in five starts. … Top rider has mount so colt cannot be overlooked. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

9. Creator (Asmussen, Ricardo Santana): Last-to-first winner of Arkansas Derby gives trainer second contender. … Still a likely long shot with two wins from nine starts. .. Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 58-1.

10. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise Jr., Mike Smith): Moves back in based on San Felipe win, fourth-place finish in Santa Anita Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

Keep an eye on: Lani, My Man Sam, Mo Tom, Suddenbreakingnews, 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.