Jack Van Berg has a permanent place among the legends of horseracing. Now 81 years old, Van Berg is still going strong with more than 6,000 career wins. His most noteworthy accomplishments include winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 1987 with Alysheba. Van Berg is known for his straightforward method of training and for being one of the more affable personalities in racing.
From Nebraska to The Horse Racing Hall of Fame
The Van Berg family is no stranger to horse racing. Jack is the son of Hall of Fame trainer Marion Van Berg. The young Jack began his career in the family’s Nebraska operations and began training his own stable of horses at small tracks like Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack in Omaha. It is noteworthy that Van Berg managed to lead the nation in earnings in 1976 while toiling away on a small circuit. He also amassed 496 wins that year, no small feat at any racetrack.
Van Berg soon outgrew the tracks of Nebraska and began to compete on the biggest racetracks in the United States. At Arlington Park in Chicago the trainer accomplished a very significant milestone. The date was July 15, 1987. Van Berg scored win number 5,000 with Art’s Chandelle. By 2008, Van Berg was second on the all-time wins list for American trainers.
His accomplishments landed Van Berg a spot in the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1985. This is very significant when you realize that most inductees receive their honor toward the end of their careers. Van Berg was just getting started. Although he has slowed down in recent years due to his age, Van Berg still takes an active role in the management of his horses.
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Jack Van Berg and Alysheba
Without question, the most important horse in Van Berg’s stable was Alysheba. Van Berg won two legs of the Triple Crown with Alysheba in 1987 and captured the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1988. Alysheba was also a successful sire in retirement and produced 11 winners of graded stakes races.
As a two-year-old racehorse, the young Alysheba was relatively unimpressive compared to other top stakes horses of the same age. The horse did not blossom until his three-year-old year under the patient handling of Van Berg.
One of the core principles embraced by Van Berg has been to allow a horse to continue to race when they are older. There is a tendency for trainers to retire male champions early so that owners can capitalize on stud fees and to protect the horse from the possibility of injury. Van Berg has been very outspoken in his belief that horses should be kept in competition as long as they feel good and continue to perform well.
Alysheba was an example of Van Berg’s mentality. He raced the horse many times after its Triple Crown series victories. Some would argue that Alysheba even produced his best season in his four-year-old year when he won seven stakes including the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Influence on Other Race Horse Trainers
Like many trainers of the modern era, Jack Van Berg has taken an active role in mentoring other young horsemen. Bill Mott and Frank Brothers both honed their skills under the watchful eye of Van Berg. Mott would later go on to train the legendary Cigar.
To be an apprentice for Van Berg was certainly not easy. The trainer could be tough but fair. He was able to pass on his knowledge in such a way that it left a lasting impression on all those who learned from him.
Van Berg has an outgoing demeanor to be sure, but those who have served under him know that he demands excellence at every turn. Nothing is left to chance in the Van Berg stable. The care and conditioning of horses, as well as their overall well-being, is given top priority.
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