He’s here! Kentucky Derby champ Nyquist arrives at Pimlico

Leave a comment

BALTIMORE — When it comes to selecting a stall for his Kentucky Derby winner at Pimlico Race Course, trainer Doug O’Neill doesn’t care much for tradition.

He’d rather go with his own tested method for success.

Unbeaten Nyquist arrived at Pimlico on Monday and was eased into Stall 24 of the Stakes Barn with six other horses trained by O’Neill.

The Kentucky Derby winner is usually kept in highly regarded Stall 40 of the Preakness Barn, home of several Triple Crown champions, including Secretariat and Seattle Slew.

O’Neill spurned Stall 40 in 2012 with Derby winner I’ll Have Another, choosing instead to keep the horse in the Stakes Barn.

I’ll Have Another won the Preakness, and Nyquist’s handlers can only hope this horse does likewise.

“It really keeps the horses happy. It worked with I’ll Have Another and we’re going to do the same thing with Nyquist,” assistant trainer Jack Sisterson said.

Nyquist improved to 8-0 after winning by 1 1/4 lengths at Churchill Downs. He will seek to make in nine a row in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 21.

Nyquist was transported by plane from Kentucky on Monday afternoon. He covered the final leg of the trip with a police escort from Baltimore-Washington International Airport before being led to the barn shortly after 6:30 p.m.

It isn’t often that the Derby winner arrives so soon in Baltimore, but that’s what O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam did four years ago and the strategy proved sound.

“We can do anything with Nyquist,” Sisterson said. “It worked with I’ll Have Another. So we kept kind of the same routine and got him over here early. He gets acclimated and he gets to turn over the stuff he’ll run on.”

The plan is to go easy on the horse this week.

“He’ll walk the next couple days and then we’ll get him back to the track jogging,” Sisterson said. “Then he’ll do like we’ve done his whole career. He jogs one day and then gallops the next.

“We won’t change anything. Again, the beauty with Nyquist mentally is that whatever we put in front of him, he handles it. His whole career, we’ve kept him on the same training routine, and we’re not going to change it now.”

Sisterson will oversee the care and training of Nyquist until O’Neill arrives on Thursday.

Wood Memorial boosts purse to attract top horses

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

AP Photo
Leave a comment

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.