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Dolphus Morrison, breeder of Rachel Alexandra, dies at 82

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Dolphus Morrison, a longtime horseman and the breeder of the great filly Rachel Alexandra, has died. He was 82.

He died Wednesday at a nursing home and had Alzheimer’s, his wife, Ellen, said.

Morrison was involved in thoroughbred racing for more than three decades when he and trainer Hal Wiggins struck gold with Rachel Alexandra in 2009. The champion filly, named after a granddaughter of Morrison’s, won the Preakness that year and became the face of his breeding program.

“He was kind, he was smart, he was generous,” breeder and longtime friend Dede McGehee of Heaven Trees Farm told The Blood-Horse, a thoroughbred racing trade publication. “He was a little unorthodox at times, but he was a father figure to me. He was kind to everyone who worked on the farm, he was kind to everyone who worked on the track. He treated everybody with respect.”

After Wiggins decided to switch jockeys to Calvin Borel, Rachel Alexandra took off on a nine-race winning streak. Rachel Alexandra soared to victory in the Kentucky Oaks by a record 20 1/4 lengths and became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Other victories in 2009 included the Haskell and Woodward, and she was honored as Horse of the Year. This past August she was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.

Morrison nearly sold Rachel Alexandra when she didn’t display early signs of the champion she would become. She finished sixth in her 2-year-old debut in May 2008 at Churchill Downs and won only two of her first five starts. He and partner Mike Lauffer finally sold her to Stonestreet Stables before the Preakness.

Morrison ended his breeding operation in 2012.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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.