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A LEGEND’S PERSPECTIVE

Posted by on 1/2/2014 8:16:12 PM

One of the highlights of my life in racing was the several days I spent with trainer Jack Van Berg giving seminars in Nebraska.

The timing of the seminars went along with the advent of simulcasting throughout the country and my job as a handicapper was to lend some insight to the players at Nebraska’s key racetrack, Ak-Sar-Ben, which was right outside of Omaha.

It’s doubtful that I ever had a better time. Steak was on the menu for every single meal, drinks were flowing like the fountain of youth and the patrons at the track were eager to get an edge on the action that was happening on the track in Southern California.

We started out speaking to several hundred people in the afternoon at a conference in the clubhouse at Ak-Sar-Ben.

The hosts were gracious, the fans were knowledgeable and since Jack was the king of the area, the fans treated me like at least a prince. It was a grand time.

But it all came to an end.

By 1995, Ak-Sar-Ben was shut down for good and thousands of workers were affected.

The closing of Hollywood Park brought this story to mind and over the decades other tracks have come and gone. Garden State Park in New Jersey, where I went many times as a teenager bit the dust as did Detroit Race Course in Michigan.

Van Berg starting training at Hollywood in 1972, but he has been around the sport since he was knee high to a grasshopper.

His father Marion, who was one of the most prolific trainers ever, led the nation in money won 4 times and in racing won 14 times. Jack learned from his Dad how to be tough but fair and he ran a tight ship.

The closing of Hollywood will also affect a plethora of people and Van Berg is one of them. He is on record as saying the slot machines and the politicians are the ones that gave up on this golden goose.

Van Berg and most horsemen that have been associated with Hollywood agree that it was one of the finest racing surfaces in the country and with any kind of foresight, the property could have been used to host one of the greatest sports complexes in the world.

But that is not to be.

One thing Van Berg taught me is that you have to listen to horses. You have to let the horses tell you when and where they want to race.

Of course, this is done by experience and by observing so it is a learned process, but with the right teacher like Van Berg, who has taught many a young trainer the tricks of the trade, a conditioner can develop a sixth sense about how to handle the racehorse.

For the record, Jack himself won the Eclipse Award in 1984, won 10 national titles and in 1976 led the nation in both races won and in purses, something that has been done only 6 times in 10 decades.

Till now, Jack has saddled over 40,000 horses, watched nearly 6,500 win and his runners have earned nearly $85 million.

It will be hard for Van Berg to stick around California. He doesn’t have the solid stock that made him a legend and he very well could be moving his stable to Hot Springs for the Oaklawn meet.

Pencil him in for many winners to come.


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