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Always Dreaming checks into Pimlico’s Stall 40 for Preakness

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BALTIMORE (AP) Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming made himself right at home Tuesday in Stall 40 at Pimlico Race Course, munching on hay while his handlers scurried around him.

The bay colt was in excellent spirits after traveling from Churchill Downs to Pimlico, where he will spend the next 11 days before running in the Preakness.

Always Dreaming was pampered by assistant trainer Ginny DePasquale, who will be joined by her boss, trainer Todd Plentcher, on Wednesday.

“I just spoke to Todd and told him: `The horse looks very bright-eyed. He looks very happy,”‘ DePasquale said. “It’s pretty special to see him looking that well. I’m happy and I know Todd is.”

Stall 40 is traditionally reserved for the Kentucky Derby winner and has housed many of the greatest champions in horse racing history. Secretariat and Seattle Slew are among several Triple Crown winners who resided there, but Always Dreaming is the first Derby winner to cozy into Stall 40 since California Chrome in 2014.

“It’s actually very exciting because we think he’s a really, really special horse,” DePasquale said.

The 1 3/16-mile Preakness will be run May 20. The notion behind bringing Always Dreaming to Pimlico well in advance of the race was twofold: to avoid excessive travel and to let the horse get familiar with his surroundings.

Instead of transporting the New York-based Always Dreaming from Kentucky to Belmont and back to Baltimore, Pletcher figured it was best just to eliminate the trip to New York.

“All that traveling, it doesn’t really take anything out of him, but you never really know,” DePasquale said. “It’s simpler to bring him here, let him settle in and save all that shipping back and forth.”

The plan is for Always Dreaming to jog around the track Wednesday and “probably gallop” on Thursday, according to DePasquale.

Sometime next week, things will begin to get hectic at Pimlico. Until then, Always Dreaming will have the place pretty much to himself.

“Yeah, I think that’s the important part – just let him look around without all the excitement,” DePasquale said. “That way, he can take everything in. And then slowly but surely, all the excitement starts.”

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.