Jack Van Berg, a legendary Hall of Fame trainer who 6,523 races, died December 27 due to complications from cancer at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 81.
A native of Nebraska, Van Berg followed his father, Hall of Fame trainer Marion Van Berg, into the horse racing business and dominated the Midwestern ranks for decades before enjoying enormous success nationally in the 1980s.
He’s best known for handling Alysheba, the champion 3-year-old of 1987 following wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and a nose second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Alysheba compiled seven stakes victories, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Santa Anita H. (G1) and Woodward (G1) during his 1988 Horse of the Year campaign and retired with more than $6.6 million in earnings. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
Van Berg won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 1984, the same year Preakness victor Gate Dancer provided him with his first Triple Crown race win. Gate Dancer finished second in the first two runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (1984-85) but was disqualified and placed third in the inaugural edition, and he retired with more than $2.5 million in earnings.
From 1959 to 1977, Van Berg was the leading trainer at Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack and he added a 20th title in 1984. He led the nation by wins nine times during his storied career, establishing a new record in 1976 when sending out 476 winners and leading the country by earnings.
Van Berg, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985, became the first North American trainer to reach the 5,000-win mark in 1987 and he ranks fourth all-time by victories. His horses earned more than $85 million.