New horses among Preakness challenges facing Always Dreaming

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After Always Dreaming’s win in the Kentucky Derby as the favorite, the colt will be running in the Preakness with a bulls-eye on his back.

With a victory, Always Dreaming would head to the Belmont Stakes in New York three weeks later with a shot at winning the Triple Crown. Two years ago, American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought by winning the Triple Crown. Before that, California Chrome in 2014 and I’ll Have Another in 2012 followed up their Kentucky Derby victories by winning the Preakness to set up Triple tries. Neither pulled off the feat.

The 142nd Preakness is shaping up to have 11 runners. Entries are due Wednesday, when post positions will be drawn.

Always Dreaming figures to be the clear favorite. After starting the year without a victory, he’s won four in a row by a combined 23\ lengths.

Always Dreaming arrived in Baltimore three days after winning the Derby by 2} lengths on a sloppy track. Trainer Todd Pletcher wanted to give the dark bay colt plenty of time to adjust to his new surroundings since Always Dreaming proved difficult to train in the days leading up to the Derby. His behavior forced Pletcher to adjust his equipment and use a different exercise rider in the mornings.

The colt has been, well, like a dream since he left Kentucky.

“We like what we’re seeing so far,” Pletcher said. “All the indications are he’s bounced out of the race quickly. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he cooled down after the race and recovered so well even the evening of the Derby. All the indications since then have been great.”

Pletcher traditionally skips the Preakness because he’s not a fan of running horses back two weeks after a stressful race like the Derby. Instead, the New York-based trainer often gives his Derby runners five weeks’ rest and points them toward the 1+-mile Belmont Stakes, the third and longest leg of the Triple Crown.

“It’s really a tremendous respect for the Preakness,” Pletcher said. “It’s something I’d love to win. It’s just in a lot of cases we felt like that our horses need a little more time to recover, and not all of them have bounced out of the Derby as well as it seems like Dreaming has so far.”

The 49-year-old trainer is 0 for 8 in the race. His best finish was third with Impeachment in 2000. Always Dreaming will be just his second Preakness starter in seven years.

Pletcher has decided Always Dreaming won’t have a timed workout – known as a breeze – before the Preakness.

“He’s putting plenty of energy into his gallops and I just don’t see the need for a breeze,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus the two weeks on kind of refueling the tank a little bit, and hopefully he can show us at the Preakness all that he has and be ready to go.”

Always Dreaming faces different challenges in the Preakness. Unlike the traffic-choked 20-horse field in the 1\-mile Derby, the second leg of the Triple Crown is limited to 14 horses running a shorter distance of 1 3/16 miles.

Always Dreaming faces new shooters, too. Several horses that skipped the Derby have the advantage of being rested, including Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money, Multiplier, Senior Investment and Term of Art. Lancaster Bomber, from the barn of Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, finished fourth in the English 2000 Guineas on May 6, the same day as the Derby.

Some of Always Dreaming’s Derby competition is back to take a shot at knocking him off, including fourth-place finisher Classic Empire.

“I’m running him because we feel he’s the best horse and we want to prove it,” trainer Mark Casse said. “We sure didn’t change our mind given the results of the Derby.”

Also returning from the Derby are second-place Lookin At Lee, seventh-place Gunnevera and 11th-place Hence.

“I’ve tasted what it’s like to think we are going to win the Kentucky Derby,” said Corey Lanerie, who rides Lookin At Lee. “Now hopefully we can get the job done in the Preakness.”

The Preakness lost a potential starter on Sunday when Royal Mo suffered a career-ending injury during a five-furlong workout at Pimlico.

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens was aboard Royal Mo when he said he heard a pop while turning into the stretch.

Trainer John Shirreffs said X-rays showed a fractured sesamoid bone in the colt’s right front ankle. Royal Mo was taken to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.

The Southern California-based colt was on the eligible list for the Derby but didn’t draw into the field.

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.