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Santa Anita Derby: O’Neill to saddle four, Baffert three

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Trainer Doug O’Neill will saddle four horses in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby, including 7-2 early favorite Illiad. Bob Baffert has three contenders, including two horses that are co-third choices at 5-1.

Baffert is taking aim at extending his record of seven wins in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race, the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby.

O’Neill has won the race two times. Besides Iliad, he entered Term of Art, So Conflated and Milton Freewater on Wednesday, when a total of 13 horses were entered for the 80th edition of the Grade 1 race.

Baffert’s trio is Reach the World, American Anthem and Irish Freedom. Reach the World and American Anthem are co-third choices with Battle of Midway, trained by fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer.

The winner earns 100 points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, which decides the field of 20 horses for the May 6 race. Second place is 40 points, with 20 to third place and 10 to fourth place.

John Shirreffs, who won the 2007 Santa Anita Derby, entered Gormley and Royal Mo, both owned by Jerry and Ann Moss. They won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 shot Giacomo.

Trained by O’Neill, Illiad won the San Vicente by 3 1/2 lengths on Feb. 12 and finished second in the San Felipe on March 11. The colt has two wins in four career starts and earnings of $227,345.

Gormley won the Sham on Jan. 7 and finished fourth in the San Felipe. He has three wins in five career starts and earnings of $320,000.

Reach the World is stepping up in class to run in a stakes race for the first time in his fourth career start.

American Anthem is looking to rebound after finishing 10th in the Rebel at Oaklawn on March 18. Baffert said he lost a shoe while getting beat by 13 1/2 lengths. He then finished second in the Sham, losing by a head to Gormley.

The field in post position order with jockeys and odds (all carry 124 pounds): Term of Art, Tyler Baze, 124 pounds, 12-1; Reach the World, Mike Smith, 5-1; Battle of Midway, Corey Nakatani, 5-1; Comma Sister, Israel Ocampo, 50-1; So Conflated, Mario Gutierrez, 15-1; American Anthem, Martin Garcia, 124, 5-1; Kimbear, Joe Talamo, 124, 12-1; Gormley, Victor Espinoza, 124, 9-2; Iliad, Flavien Prat, 124, 7-2; Milton Freewater, Tiago Pereira, 124, 30-1; Irish Freedom, Rafael Bejarano, 124, 20-1; Midnight Pleasure, Jamie Theriot, 124, 30-1; Royal Mo, Gary Stevens, 124, 10-1.

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.