Getty Images

World’s No. 1 horse Arrogate returns to racing at Del Mar

Leave a comment

Arrogate is returning to racing after a nearly four-month layoff with a bulls-eye on his back.

The 4-year-old colt ranked the world’s No. 1 horse brings a seven-race winning streak into the San Diego Handicap on Saturday at Del Mar. He won the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup in January and the $10 million Dubai World Cup in his last start on March 25.

His career earnings of $17,084,600 are a North American record.

So what’s a big-shot like him doing in a $300,000 stakes?

It’s a tuneup for more prestigious races later on and the first of three potential starts the colt will make at the seaside track north of San Diego. Arrogate’s target this summer is the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19. This fall, he will defend his title in the BC Classic, which he won last year at Santa Anita.

The field for the Grade 2 San Diego was reduced to five on Friday when trainer Keith Desormeaux decided to run Dalmore in Sunday’s $75,000 Wickerr Stakes instead of taking on Arrogate.

That leaves Accelerate, Cat Burglar, El Huerfano and Donworth to challenge Arrogate, who figures to be the odds-on favorite in the 1 1/16-mile race. Bob Baffert trains both Arrogate and Cat Burglar.

Arrogate will carry high weight of 126 pounds, including Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. The colt is spotting Cat Burglar eight pounds, Accelerate nine pounds, Donworth 10 pounds and El Huerfano 11 pounds. In a handicap race, weights are assigned by the racing secretary.

Arrogate hasn’t carried that much weight since winning a minor race at Del Mar last summer. After that, he grabbed the sport’s attention with a record 13 +-length victory in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. It’s been one big-money victory after another ever since.

The colt has distanced himself from the competition in ways not seen in racing recently.

He knocked off fan favorite and Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome in the BC Classic and beat Chrome again in the Pegasus World Cup. Traveling thousands of miles to Dubai didn’t faze Arrogate, either. Despite a poor start out of the gate, he went on to victory in the desert.

Baffert has masterfully managed Arrogate’s career for owner Juddmonte Farm, with the Hall of Fame trainer carefully picking his spots and the colt’s performance backing him up every time. His only loss came in his career debut when he finished third.

Still, Baffert knows better than most what it’s like leading a world-beater to the track only to watch him lose.

That’s what happened two years ago, when American Pharoah was stunned by Keen Ice in the Travers barely two months after becoming horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

And Arrogate’s rivals are spoiling for a similar upset at Del Mar.

“One great thing about this sport is that they’re not machines,” said Doug O’Neill, who trains Donworth. “As much as Arrogate looks unbeatable, they all are beatable. If he’s not feeling it on Saturday and we are, we’ll shock the world.”

Wood Memorial boosts purse to attract top horses

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

AP Photo
Leave a comment

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.