Jack Van Berg followed in the footsteps of his father, Hall of Fame trainer Marion Van Berg. A Nebraska native, Jack Van Berg was the leading trainer for 19 consecutive years (1959-1977) at Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha, Neb. In 1976, he set a record for most wins in a single year by a trainer (since broken) with 496.
From his father, Jack Van Berg learned the skill of successfully claiming horses and choosing the races where they could perform well. Where he differs from his father is in making the jump from claiming horses to well-bred winners of major stakes.
Van Berg is known as a patient trainer, able to individualize programs for his charges, and willing to experiment when necessary. To calm the unruly Gate Dancer, winner of the 1984 Preakness and Super Derby, Van Berg devised an ear-covering hood that minimized distracting crowd noises.
Van Berg’s best horse was Hall of Famer Alysheba, Horse of the Year in 1988. Under Van Berg’s direction, Alysheba won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Alysheba retired with a record $6,679,242 in earnings.
On July 15, 1987, Van Berg became the first trainer to win 5,000 races when he sent Art’s Chandelle to victory at Arlington Park. Through August 2013, Van Berg ranks fourth all time in victories with 6,417 and has purse earnings totaling $83,251,073
Van Berg has mentored many elite trainers, including Hall of Famer Bill Mott and Frank Brothers, both of whom started off as assistants to Van Berg, who has led all American trainers in wins nine times.
Van Berg won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 1984 and led the nation in earnings in 1976. Along with his victory in the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic and two wins in the Preakness, Van Berg has won the Apple Blossom Handicap, Secretariat Stakes, Santa Anita Oaks, Oaklawn Handicap, Super Derby (2), Maryland Million Classic, Hollywood Derby, Strub Stakes, Woodward Stakes, Meadowlands Cup and Santa Anita Handicap.
Jack Van Berg was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1985.