Bob Baffert is planning to watch the Derby from his couch

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Bob Baffert went from thinking he could win a fifth Kentucky Derby to being out of it in the space of a few seconds.

Once Mastery got hurt after winning a prep race this winter, Baffert no longer had a horse for the first Saturday in May. It was a huge blow to a trainer who’s missed the Derby just twice since 2009 and whose four victories are tied for second-most in history.

Mastery won the San Felipe Stakes by 6 } lengths at Santa Anita, and Baffert made his way to the winner’s circle believing the colt was “the second coming” of his Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.

“We were so excited,” he said Tuesday. “I had taken my time with him. I wanted him ready for all three races.”

But just past the finish line, Mastery took a bad step and sustained a condylar fracture, a common injury among thoroughbreds. The colt had screws inserted in his left front ankle and is recovering.

“It’s a part of the game that gets really bitter,” Baffert said. “It gets you so upset. It can be so cruel.”

Now there’s no need for metal barriers to keep back crowds outside Baffert’s barn on the backstretch at Churchill Downs. All the pre-Derby hustle and bustle is going on elsewhere in the stable area. No media hordes waiting for a few bon mots from the white-haired trainer.

That’s what happens when you’re an observer and not a participant in America’s greatest race.

Don’t think it doesn’t bother him.

“I’m just trying to get there again,” he said. “I want another shot at it with an American Pharoah (foal). His babies look really good.”

In 2015, American Pharoah swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont for the sport’s first Triple Crown victory in 37 years. The horse retired later that year and is now busy producing offspring that Baffert hopes follow in their sire’s hoof prints.

He bred a mare to American Pharoah, who stands in nearby Lexington, where the trainer and his wife Jill have visited their equine friend who became like family.

American Pharoah’s achievement cemented Baffert’s reputation as one of the greatest trainers in the sport’s history. Even without a current Derby runner, he still got rock-star treatment Tuesday from backstretch visitors eager for signed photos, ball caps and whiskey bottles done up in the colors of American Pharoah’s silks.

Fans posed against the backdrop of green-and-white signs nailed to the barn wall naming Baffert’s Derby and Triple Crown winners.

They shouldn’t feel sorry for him. He trains Arrogate, a 4-year-old colt who was injured during last year’s Triple Crown series but rebounded to win the Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, racking up $17 million in earnings. Arrogate is set to resume racing this summer.

Baffert does have one bit of business this week. He’s here to saddle filly Abel Tasman in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on Friday. Then he’ll fly home to Southern California on Saturday morning and be back in time to catch the Derby from the comfort of his couch.

“I’ll be watching everybody stressing out,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”

Baffert has a rooting interest in four Derby runners that were sired by horses he once trained.

“That’s when you know you’ve been in this game a long time,” the 64-year-old Hall of Famer said.

Two of them – Always Dreaming and Classic Empire – could be the favorites for the 1 \-mile race. Always Dreaming, trained by Todd Pletcher, was sired by Pioneerof the Nile. Classic Empire, trained by Mark Casse, was sired by Bodemeister.

The other two will be longshots. Lookin At Lee, trained by Steve Asmussen, was sired by Lookin At Lucky. Sonneteer, who is 0 for 10 in his career and trained by Keith Desormeaux, was sired by Midnight Lute, who never ran in the Derby.

Baffert is also cheering on his pal Bode Miller, part-owner of Fast And Accurate, one of an expected 20 horses in the field. For years, the Olympic skier has been a Derby week regular at Baffert’s barn. The trainer’s pre-teen son is named for the athlete.

“It’s a different feeling if you’ve got a horse in there,” Baffert said. “Believe me, he’ll come out of it with a totally different perception. He’ll understand what it’s all about – the importance of the race, the emotions that run through you. Everybody should go through it.”

Baffert hopes he does again next year.

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.