Fresh horses await Derby winner Always Dreaming in Preakness

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Always Dreaming is headed to the Preakness in two weeks, when the Kentucky Derby winner is likely to face several fresh horses that skipped the first leg of the Triple Crown.

A majority of the 20-horse field that ran on a sloppy Churchill Downs track in Saturday’s Derby won’t go on to Baltimore.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday that Always Dreaming will head to Baltimore on Tuesday so the 3-year-old colt has plenty of time to adjust to his new surroundings ahead of the 1 3/16-mile race to be run May 20.

“At Pimlico, there’s generally not a lot of horses training there,” he said. “It will be a quiet environment, give us time to get him settled in and if we have to make any adjustments, we’ll have time to do that.”

Always Dreaming will take up residence in stall No. 40, which traditionally houses the Derby winner in the Pimlico stakes barn.

The dark bay colt was difficult to train in the days leading to the Derby, forcing Pletcher to adjust his equipment. Eventually, Always Dreaming settled down and won by 2} lengths, equaling the longest streak of favorites to win since five in a row did so in the 1890s.

“He’s really got some spring in his step this morning,” Pletcher said.

The 49-year-old trainer and jockey John Velazquez won their second Derbies. Pletcher was still sorting through hundreds of congratulatory text messages, including ones from Hall of Fame basketball coach Lute Olson and Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.

No horse asserted his dominance in the winter prep races leading up to the 143rd Derby. As the winner, Always Dreaming certainly commands respect. However, the colt isn’t scaring away the competition in the Preakness.

The field for the second leg of the Triple Crown is capped at 14 – six fewer than the Derby.

“There’s not that much separation from this bunch of 3-year-olds right now, from what I can see, other than maybe the winner yesterday,” said trainer Ken McPeek, who is pointing Lexington Stakes winner Senior Investment toward the Preakness.

Among Always Dreaming’s Derby rivals, second-place finisher Lookin At Lee and 13th-place Girvin are possible for the Preakness. If an issue with fourth-place Classic Empire’s right eye clears up, he could join them.

Classic Empire got banged into by McCraken in the start of a chain-reaction collision and his eye was nearly closed shut on Sunday.

“I’d like another crack at everybody because he had a trip from hell,” trainer Mark Casse said. “He looks a bit like Muhammad Ali after a rough night.”

Southern California-based Royal Mo, who didn’t get into the Derby, will run in the Preakness.

Gunnevera, who was seventh in the Derby, is another possibility.

Other possible new shooters include Illinois Derby winner Multiplier, Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money and Lancaster Bomber from the barn of Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien.

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.