Always Dreaming wins 143rd Kentucky Derby

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Always Dreaming, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by jockey John Velazquez, won the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby in 2:03.59. 

This was Pletcher and Velazquez’s second Kentucky Derby win.
Always Dreaming, facing 9-2 odds to begin the race, got off to a great start in the wide open field of 20, but State of Honor had the edge. Velazquez made his move on the far turn, holding off the field in the final furlong to earn the Garland of Roses.

Lookin at Lee followed in second place with Battle at Midway crossing in third.

An emotional Pletcher said post race that his second win is “even more special” than his first, especially given his past struggles in running the Kentucky Derby. Pletcher won his first in 2010 with Super Saver and in his 17 years now has two wins, two second place finishes and three thirds.

However, after being presented with the trophy, Pletcher said he’s “a lot less tired” of the narrative that’s haunted him in the past.

Velazquez’s first Kentucky Derby win came one year after Pletcher’s, leading Animal Kingdom in 2011. Though Pletcher is Velazquez’s longtime trainer, this is the first Derby win for the two together.

“On to the Preakness” was the mantra for Always Dreaming’s owner Vincent Viola during the trophy presentation, but can Always Dreaming be the next Triple Crown winner?

American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed’s win in 1978 and was just the 12th Triple Crown winner in the sport’s history. Can Always Dreaming be the next? Find out May 20, 2017 when the next leg in the quest for the Triple Crown takes us to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, MD for the 2017 Preakness Stakes.

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.