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Jack C. Van Berg

Jack C. Van Berg
Induction Year: 
June 7, 1936, Columbus, Neb.
Dec. 27, 2017, Hot Springs, Neb.
Career Years: 
Number of Starters: 
Number of Winners: 
Winning Percentage: 

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An Eclipse Award-winning trainer, Jack Van Berg grew up as a stablehand for his father, Hall of Fame conditioner Marion Van Berg. In a career that spanned from 1957 until his death in 2017 at the age of 81, Jack Van Berg won 6,523 races and had purse earning of almost $86 million. He ranked fourth all time in wins at the time of his death.


Van Berg won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 1984, the year he won the Preakness Stakes with Gate Dancer. Van Berg’s best horse, Hall of Famer Alysheba, came along a couple years later. With Alysheba, Van Berg won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1987 and six Grade 1s in 1988, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Alysheba won the Eclipse Award for Champion 3-Year-Old Male in 1987 and was named Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male in 1988. He retired with earnings of $6,679,242, surpassing the previous record of John Henry. At the height of his career, Van Berg had more than 150 horses in training for some 35-40 clients. The majority of his horses trained at his center near Goshen, Ky.


The BloodHorse’s editor, Ed Bowen, wrote after the Derby: “The day after he won the Kentucky Derby with Alysheba, Van Berg spoke of his father’s gruffness with affection. As a boss, Marion Van Berg had a tendency to call his male help ‘boy,’ regardless of whether the individual being addressed happened to be his grown son.


“I never sassed him, because I had too much respect for him,” the son said, and he recalled that his father’s technique of helping others learn often was to let them try for themselves, and then point out their mistakes.”


Among the many accomplishments of Van Berg, he was the first trainer to reach the 5,000-win plateau on July 15, 1987. In 1976, he set a record for the most wins in a year with 496 and was also the leading trainer by earnings.


Van Berg sent out his first winner in 1957. He was the leading trainer at Ak-Sar-Ben in Nebraska for 19 consecutive years from 1959 through 1977 and was the leading trainer in the country by wins nine times between 1968 and 1986.


Along with Alysheba and Gate Dancer, Van Berg trained graded stakes winners Blumin Affair, Little Brianne, Herat, Charging Falls, Vilzak, Fit to Scout and Bold Style, among others. He won a total of 68 graded stakes from 1976 through 1995.