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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.

LeRoy Jolley dies at 79

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LeRoy Jolley, a Hall of Fame trainer who twice won the Kentucky Derby and was involved in one of thoroughbred racing’s most famous match races that ended in tragedy, has died. He was 79.

He died Monday.

Jolley won the 1975 Kentucky Derby with Foolish Pleasure, who went on to finish second in the Preakness and in the Belmont.

In 1980, Jolley won the Derby with Genuine Risk, only the second filly to win the Run for the Roses and the first in 65 years. In 1976, he trained 2-5 favorite Honest Pleasure to a second-place finish in the Derby, and he finished second in 1979 with General Assembly.

Jolley enjoyed a bit of crossover fame through a Miller Lite beer commercial in 1976 that featured him with Foolish Pleasure and Honest Pleasure.

On July 6, 1975, a match race was run between Foolish Pleasure and unbeaten filly Ruffian at Belmont Park. It was highly anticipated and attracted a crowd of over 50,000 and a huge television audience.

While on the lead, Ruffian broke down, snapping both sesamoid bones in her right front leg. She still tried to run and finish the race, which Foolish Pleasure won unchallenged. Ruffian underwent surgery and when the anesthesia wore off, she thrashed about wildly on the floor as if still running in the race. She had to be euthanized.

Jolley won two Breeders’ Cup races: the 1986 Turf with Manila and the 1990 Juvenile Fillies with Meadow Star.

Training mostly on the New York circuit, he saddled 991 winners in 6,907 career starts and had purse earnings of $35,125,553, according to Equibase.

During the height of his career from 1975-91, Jolley’s earnings often topped $1 million a year. Among his clients was investor Carl Icahn.

Jolley’s major stakes victories included the Travers, Whitney, Wood Memorial, Florida Derby, Metropolitan Handicap, Woodward Stakes, Arlington Million and Blue Grass.

In 1987, he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Born Jan. 14, 1938, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Jolley was the son of famed trainer Moody S. Jolley. At age seven, he began cooling off horses after morning workouts for his father and spent summers working in his father’s barn.

Jolley took out his trainer’s license in 1958. His first stakes winner was Ridan, the co-champion 2-year-old male horse of 1961 that was owned by his parents. Riden won the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes in 1962.

He is survived by sons LeRoy Jr., who has trained horses, and Tim, and daughter Laurie.