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Rare scenes cause Sydney Cup to stop halfway through the race

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SYDNEY (AP) One of Australia’s biggest horse races – the Sydney Cup – was abandoned at the halfway point on Saturday in dramatic and controversial scenes after two horses threw their riders and one of the horses died on the track.

The 3,200-meter (2-mile) Group 1 event, worth 2 million Australian dollars ($1.5 million), attracted a field of 14 Australian and international gallopers, and shaped as one of the highlights of the autumn racing season at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse.

But trouble occurred soon after the field passed the winning post the first time in the lap-and-a-half race when Almoonqith – a former Europe and Dubai-based stallion raced by the emirate’s deputy ruler Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum – broke down.

Not only was the seven-year-old’s English jockey James Doyle thrown from the saddle, the incident also caused rival horse Who Shotthebarman to unseat its jockey, Blake Shinn.

With Almoonqith lying on the track and Doyle having trouble moving away due to an injured knee, race officials decided to call a “no-race” with 1,600 meters left. But with no warning sirens in operation, it was left to mounted track officials to call out to jockeys that the race had been abandoned.

Only about half of the remaining riders heard the call and pulled up their horses, however, with the other half pushing on in the belief the race was still valid.

English visitor, the Godolphin-owned Polarisation, was first across the line, with his rider Corey Brown celebrating what he believed was a big win for the horse’s connections.

He and the other finishing riders then steered their mounts around Almoonqith, who later had to be euthanized.

Brown was later fuming over the decision to abandon the race, saying jockeys could easily have avoided the stricken horse after the finish of the race.

“One’s broken down and it was a furlong (200 meters) after the winning post. If it was at the 100-meter mark (before the post) I could understand,” said Brown, who also called the lack of a warning siren “farcical.”

Race officials, who were expected to reschedule the event, defended their decision. Chief steward Marc van Gestel said officials had to “err on the side of caution,” as it was not immediately clear whether Almoonqith might still get up and cause havoc with the remaining field.

Meanwhile, five-year-old Australian mare Winx, the world’s highest-rated horse on turf, completed her 17th straight win with a five-length victory in the day’s richest race, the $3 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 2,000 meters.

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.