Kentucky Derby-Winning Trainer Jack Van Berg Dies

Hall of Fame Trainer Jack Van Berg Won the 1987 Kentucky Derby with Alysheba

Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who trained 1987 Kentucky Derby winner Alysheba, died Wednesday morning in Little Rock, Arkansas after a long battle with cancer and other health issues. He was 81. Van Berg was an institution in racing, universally respected by his peers and the sport’s fans alike. He won more than 6,500 races including that special 1987 Kentucky Derby with Alysheba. The talented colt and son of Alydar also won the Preakness Stakes for Van Berg, and Alysheba was champion 3-year-old male that season. Alysheba went on to earn Horse of the Year and champion older male honors in 1988. Quite an accomplishment for the Van Berg-trainee, as Alysheba won just 1-of-10 races prior to winning the Kentucky Derby while finishing in the money eight times.

Jack Van Berg with Alysheba

“I still get tears in my eyes when I watch the race (1987 Derby),” Van said in the video interview below in 2017. “Probably the greatest thrill of my life.”

Alysheba winning the 1987 Kentucky Derby.

Watch the stretch run in the 1987 Kentucky Derby as Alysheba clips heels with Bet Twice, goes to his knees and recovers to win with Chris McCarron aboard.

Van Berg was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985. His father, Marion, was inducted in 1970, and Alysheba joined them in the Racing Hall of Fame in 1993. Alysheba won his final race in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in 1988 to finish his career with 11 wins and 8 runner-up finishes in 26 starts with more than $6.6 million in earnings. Alysheba’s final four races were all Grade 1 wins including the Woodward Handicap at Belmont Park where he set a track record. Jack Van Berg through Tuesday ranked fourth all time among trainers in North America with 6,523 victories, according to Equibase. Van Berg won nine national training titles from 1968 to 1986. He earned an Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer in 1984.

Van Berg was a mentor to trainers such as Bill Mott, Frankie Brothers, Loren Rettele and many others. Van Berg gave countless young people “a leg-up” in the horse racing industry and also helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable causes via his considerable talent as an auctioneer.

“Jack was really a great horseman,” said Mott. “He was probably one of the first guys to really have one of the largest stables – set up at different locations.” Van Berg was the king of racing in Nebraska, and his reach later expanded to Southern California, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, and Arkansas. He first made national headlines in 1976, when he set a record for trainer wins in a year in North America with 496. That record stood until 2004, and Van Berg was the first trainer to win 5,000 races .

Van Berg is currently ranked Santa Anita’s 22nd all-time stakes winning trainer with 31 added money triumphs. He defeated his good friend and fellow Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham in what was a battle of Derby winners in 1988, as Alysheba avenged a loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic five months earlier by defeating Ferdinand by a half length in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Van Berg is survived by a son, trainer, Tom Van Berg, and three daughters, Tori, Tammy and Traci. He was predeceased earlier this year by another son, trainer Tim Van Berg.

Interview and history with Jack Van Berg.


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