Conquest Mo Money looks to cash in at Preakness

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BALTIMORE — Conquest Mo Money could be in line for a big payday Saturday in the $1.5 million Preakness.

He drew the outside post in a field of 10 as a 15-1 shot in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

Regardless of the Preakness outcome, Conquest Mo Money is already a winner for New Mexico-based owner Tom McKenna, 81, who paid only $8,500 for the colt last November at the dispersal sale of Conquest Stable horses.

Watch the Preakness on NBC

It was a bargain-basement price for a New York-bred colt that Conquest acquired for $180,000 one year earlier.

Unraced before this season, Conquest Mo Money already has earned $508,900. He won his first three races at Sunland Park and finished second in his last two, the Sunland Derby and the Arkansas Derby.

He had enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, but McKenna decided to wait for the Preakness. And he was willing to reinvest a chunk of the horse’s earnings to get here.

Conquest Mo Money was not nominated to the Triple Crown. The supplemental penalty was a hefty $150,000.

Early speed is Conquest Mo Money’s strong suit. He set a pressured pace in the Arkansas Derby, beaten only a half-length by Classic Empire, last season’s juvenile champion.

Classic Empire went on to the Kentucky Derby, finishing fourth in the slop following a rough trip.

Classic Empire and Conquest Mo Money meet again in the Preakness, with both aiming to knock off Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming.

While the Derby action unfolded at Churchill Downs two weeks ago, Conquest Mo Money was quietly prepping for the Preakness at Prairie Meadows. He arrived in Baltimore on Sunday following a two-day van ride from Iowa and seems to be thriving at Pimlico.

“He’s the first horse like this that I’ve had in my career,” said Jorge Carreno, the regular rider who has exercised the colt each morning this week. “We get along so well that it’s like we’re just one. It’s amazing. He just gets better and better.”

This will be the first appearance in a Triple Crown race for the owner, the jockey and trainer Miguel Hernandez.

Conquest Mo Money would not be the first horse from New Mexico to pull a Triple Crown stunner. Mine That Bird was the 50-1 upset winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby. He went on to finish second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont.

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.