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Bob Baffert looks for Preakness upset with Collected

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BALTIMORE (AP) Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert hopes Collected will deliver more than another “opening act” in the Preakness on Saturday at Pimlico.

Baffert and his charismatic colt American Pharoah won the Preakness on their way to a sweep of the Triple Crown last year.

But Baffert is short on horsepower for the current 3-year-old classics.

“Last year we were the headliner,” Baffert quipped before the Kentucky Derby. “Now we’re the opening act.”

Mor Spirit, Baffert’s Derby horse, was a not-ready-for-prime-time runner that finished 10th.

Now Baffert goes to the bench with Collected, winner of the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes and the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in his last two outings.

The colt faces the top of the division for the first time.

“It’s going to be a step up for him,” Baffert said. “He is fast, but there are a lot of fast horses in there. We feel like he deserves a chance. We never thought about the Derby with him, but he’s the kind of horse that brings it every time.”

He faces a field led by Nyquist, the Derby winner with an 8-0 record, and Exaggerator, the Santa Anita Derby winner.

Collected started his career on the turf, winning his debut at Santa Anita before finishing second in the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at Del Mar in late November.

All five stakes this year have been on dirt.

He made a smooth surface transition, capturing the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in January. That peaked Baffert’s interest to try the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in February.

Collected ran fourth there, and Baffert started hunting for softer spots, and got those confidence-building stakes wins in New Mexico and Kentucky.

Now he’s facing harder competition.

“He’s going to be tough to beat,” Baffert said of Nyquist. “The only way we can beat him is either he doesn’t bring his A Game or there’s some racing luck.”

Baffert knows he’ll need good fortune on Saturday to spring a Preakness upset.

“We got beat up a little bit (in the Derby), so we’re trying something else,” he said. “The Preakness is a fun race, and I feel that we have a horse that’s competitive.”

Baffert has six Preakness wins, tying D. Wayne Lukas for second on the all-time list. R.W. Walden set the record with seven in the late 1800s.

Baffert was asked if it was weird returning to Pimlico one year removed from the Triple Crown.

“I’ve come in here weird many years,” said the white-haired trainer, joking.

Collected would be Baffert’s first Preakness winner that didn’t run in the Derby.

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.