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Illuminant wins Grade 1 Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Illuminant closed from just off the pace to win the $300,000 Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares by one length Monday at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Flavien Prat, Illuminant ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:48.34 and paid $12.40, $5 and $3.40 at 5-1 odds in just her second start in a Grade 1 race.

“It’s pretty exciting to win a race like this,” trainer Michael McCarthy said. “I thought she would run well. She’s a very honest filly, tries hard and I thought the mile and an eighth would be right up her alley.”

France-bred Wekeela returned $2.60 and $2.40 as the 4-5 wagering favorite in her second U.S. race after shipping in from New York for trainer Chad Brown.

“The pace was slow, but we were right behind the winner turning for home and that filly never stopped,” said Javier Castellano, aboard Wekeela.

Ireland-bred Elektum was another three-quarters of a length back in third and paid $3.80 to show.

Keri Belle was fourth, followed by Fanticola, Nancy From Nairobi, Dressed to a T and Nashoba’s Gold. Evo Campo was scratched.

Trainer John Sadler saddled Elektum, winless in her last five starts since last August at Del Mar, and Nancy From Nairobi, whose three-race winning streak ended after she never pressed the pace.

With Fanticola using her natural speed to set the early pace, Illuminant settled into second most of the way around until gaining a short lead into the stretch before inching away under Prat’s right-handed whip.

“Fanticola was the only speed in the race, so I knew that I needed to be right there,” Prat said. “My filly has speed too, so I knew it would be OK.”

Fanticola was second by a neck in last year’s Gamely. She finished in the money for the 12th time in 13 races on the track’s turf course.

Illuminant finished third behind winner Tepin and runner-up Wekeela in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley on turf at Keeneland last month.

“The turf is a bit softer here and that’s maybe better for her, especially going a mile and an eighth,” Prat said. “Here at Santa Anita, I feel it’s better if you’re closer to the lead. At Keeneland, it’s a bigger turf course and when you come from off the pace there it’s easier.”

The victory, worth $180,000, increased Illuminant’s career earnings to $367,650, with four wins in 11 starts.

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.