Kent Desormeaux out of alcohol rehab, ready for Belmont

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NEW YORK — Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux returned from a short stay in a drug and alcohol rehab center and was aboard Preakness winner Exaggerator for a morning workout before Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

The 46-year-old rider on Tuesday acknowledged those who are helping him through his struggles with alcohol.

With younger brother Keith, Exaggerator’s trainer, by his side, Desormeaux said: “I think that my brother, mostly my wife, and my family have supported me through all the years, and it was my turn to say thank you.”

Exaggerator is expected to be the favorite in a field of 13 for the final leg of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park.

After his Preakness win on May 21 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Kent Desormeaux returned to California. His last day of riding was May 30 before he checked into Cirque Lodge in Sundance, Utah, a rehab facility popular with celebrities. He says he has a “sober companion” with him at all times, and that his program will continue when he completes the schedule he’s started in Utah.

Exaggerator, who finished second to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:00.92 Tuesday morning, according to Daily Racing Form clockers. At one point, the 3-year-old colt moved away from the rail on the turn, but then completed his work through the stretch.

“Good energy,” Kent Desormeaux said. “His recovery was 20 feet. He took a deep breath. He sucked some air in and just walked home like he’s just been stable walking. ”

Keith added: “As a trainer, the time is of secondary importance. You want to see the horse recover after the work. When I got back to the barn his sweat had already dried up. He had a nice and calm look in his eye and he was under control. So it looks like we’re in good shape.”

The brothers are part of a close-knit family from Louisiana’s Cajun country, but they have much different personalities. Keith, 43, has been training for more than 25 years and this is his first time on the Triple Crown stage. Kent has been a big-time rider for decades, with more than 5,700 wins, including the Kentucky Derby three times, the Preakness three times and the Belmont in 2009 with Summer Bird.

Over the years, though, Kent Desormeaux’s drinking problems have cost him good mounts, including his Preakness ride aboard Tiger Walk and his Belmont ride aboard Dullahan in 2012. He’s failed Breathalyzer tests at tracks in 2010 and 2012.

Last year, he was fined $2,500 by track stewards for being under the influence of alcohol during a race program at Del Mar. Since then, he’s been subjected to breath tests by the California Horse Racing Board any day he rides in Southern California and hasn’t failed any.

Keith has expressed his concern for his brother’s problems in the past, and seemed pleased to have Kent back aboard Exaggerator.

As the two turned and walked away from the brief news conference held next to the track, Keith smiled and said, “he’s different. I’m telling you. He’s breathing. He’s answering. It’s clean living boys.”

The post-position draw is Wednesday. Expected to take on Exaggerator are Brody’s Cause, Cherry Wine, Creator, Destin, Forever d’Oro, Gettysburg, Governor Malibu, Lani, Seeking the Soul, Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews and Trojan Nation.

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.