BELMONT: Sizing up the field for final leg of Triple Crown

Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) Preakness winner Exaggerator is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in a field of 13 3-year-olds for the 148th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes. A look at how the field shapes up for Saturday’s final leg of the Triple Crown (horses listed by post position, with trainer, jockey, analysis, morning-line odds):

1. GOVERNOR MALIBU (Christophe Clement, Joel Rosario): Peter Pan runner-up should not be forgotten … In 2014, Clement and Rosario teamed up to win Peter Pan and the Belmont, spoiling California Chrome’s Triple try with Tonalist … Colt has finished in top 3 in all seven career starts … Odds: 12-1.

2. DESTIN (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano): A respectable sixth in Derby, skipped Preakness … One of few who could be near lead early on if top rider Castellano chooses … Pletcher seeking third Belmont win. … Odds: 6-1.

3. CHERRY WINE (Dale Romans, Corey Lanerie): Made impressive stretch run to nip Derby winner Nyquist for second in Preakness … One of two Romans horses that likes to make huge late run, but plans are to be not so far back this time … Odds: 8-1.

4. SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (Donnie Von Hemel, Mike Smith): Could be on verge of breakthrough win … Trainer believes longer distance is asset for closer who ran fifth in the 1 1/4-mile Derby, and second in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby … Jockey change to Hall of Famer with two Belmont wins … Odds: 10-1.

5. STRADIVARI: (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Rugged start in Preakness in stakes debut, but otherwise ran well in finishing fourth … Could be an early pacesetter, and dictate strategy if Gettysburg doesn’t make grade … Odds: 5-1.

6. GETTYSBURG (Steve Asmussen, Paco Lopez): Speedy colt was late entry by WinStar Farm to help pick up early slow pace that could work against closers such as Creator and Exaggerator, both WinStar connections. Farm even shifted trainers from Pletcher to Asmussen … Entry should ensure quicker pace in 1 1/2-mile race, but little chance to win … Odds: 30-1.

7. SEEKING THE SOUL (Dallas Stewart, Florent Geroux): With this maiden winner and his other one, Forever d’Oro, owner Charles Fipke searching for diamond in rough … Hard to get worked up over either of these colts … Odds: 30-1.

8. FOREVER D’ORO (Dallas Stewart, Jose Ortiz): Broke maiden in third career start at Belmont on May 29 … If nothing else, there’s distance pedigree that could be on his side … Odds: 30-1.

9. TROJAN NATION (Paddy Gallagher, Aaron Gryder): Why not? Despite finishing nearly 27 lengths behind Nyquist in Derby, he did finish second in Wood at odds of 81-1 … Next win would be his first … Odds: 30-1.

10. LANI (Mikio Matsunaga, Yutaka Take): 11th in Derby, sixth in Preakness, is there a top 3 finish for gray colt before heading back to Japan? … Trainer says colt is as relaxed and training as well as possible at Belmont … Still hard to see him challenging, but crazier things have happened … Odds: 20-1.

11. EXAGGERTAOR (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux): Deserving favorite seemingly getting better with each race … Won Preakness with strong stretch run in the slop after running second to Nyquist in Derby … Wet track would be an advantage … Odds: 9-5.

12. BRODY’S CAUSE (Dale Romans, Luis Saez): Despite seventh-place Derby finish, Romans not disappointed with effort … Skipped Preakness … If slow pace develops, look for come-from-behind colt to be closer to lead than usual … beat Exaggerator in Breeders’ Futurity last year … Odds: 20-1.

13. CREATOR (Steve Asmussen, Irad Ortiz, Jr.): Jockey change to one of nation’s top riders also familiar with Belmont could help. … Won Arkansas Derby but ran troubled 13th in Derby under Ricardo Santana … Yet another closer who could make this finish an interesting one … Celebrity chef Bobby Flay became part owner on Wednesday … Odds: 10-1.

PICKS: Creator, Exaggerator, Stradivari.

Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

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.