California Chrome heavy favorite in Breeders’ Cup Classic

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The greater the buzz is about whether California Chrome can complete a historic trifecta by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the better the odds get on the challengers to the richest horse in North American history.

California Chrome, who will start from the No. 4 post at Santa Anita racetrack under jockey Victor Espinoza, is listed as the -140 favorite for the climatic race of the season at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Chrome, the four-legged equivalent of Michael Phelps – the champion who’s kept on while most of his contemporaries have retired – is an unblemished 6-0 this season and will be trying to complete the first sweep of the world’s three biggest dirt races.

Chrome has already won the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Classic. The five-year-old’s odds seem to be getting less profitable by the hour; Chrome opened at even-money and was listed at -120 on Wednesday before the odds shifted again. It’s hard to imagine Chrome losing in his own backyard.

Arrogate, a Bob Baffert-trained three-year-old, draws in as the second favorite at +275 on the Breeders’ Cup Classic odds. The Classic is a 1 1/4-mile race and Arrogate set a track record at that distance while winning the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, New York, in August. However, this is only his sixth career race, so if he prevails he would be the most inexperienced winner in the Classic’s 33-year history. Arrogate is starting from the outside at the No. 10 position.

Frosted, who is listed at +750, has never finished higher than third in four lifetime starts at one mile and a quarter. His two graded stakes wins this year have each come at shorter distances.

Effinex, bred and named by Russell Cohen, offers the most realistic longshot value at +4000. Effinex, with Flavien Prat aboard on Saturday, was the runner-up in the 2015 Classic and will start on the inside from the No. 1 post. That creates the possibility of Effinex, as is his wont, biding his time and making a move for the lead on the home stretch.

Melatonin, listed at +1600 and slotted into the No. 6 post, has won four times at Santa Anita but has not raced since June. No Classic winner has ever had a four-month layoff, but the respite could help the veteran.

Two other darkhorses that rate consideration to place or show are Hoppertunity (+2200, No. 9 post) and Keen Ice (+2500, No. 3 post). Each could benefit from the blistering pace Arrogate and California Chrome could set in the first two quarter miles.

The field of 10 is filled out by Shaman Ghost (+2500, No. 8 post), Win The Space (+6600, No. 5 post) and War Story (+10000, No. 7 post).

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.