Trainer Profile: Jack Van Berg

Trainer Jack Van Berg

Jack Van Berg was born into a racing family in 1936 in Columbus, Nebraska. He got his trainers license in 1951 at the age of 15. His father Marion is a Hall of Fame trainer, and Jack joined him in 1985 in the National Museum or Racing and Hall of Fame.

For 19 straight years to 1977, Jack was the leading trainer at Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack in Omaha, NE. He became the first trainer in the sport to create multiple divisions around the country, winning races in droves at tracks in the Midwest.  In 1976 Jack won 496 races and was the U.S. Champion Thoroughbred Trainer by earnings. In 1984, Van Berg won the Preakness Stakes with Gate Dancer, and Van Berg was voted the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer. On July 15, 1987, Jack Van Berg became the first trainer to win 5,000 races. In all, Jack Van Berg has led all U.S. trainers in wins nine times.

During the Triple Crown trail season of 1987, Jack trained the great Alysheba, who won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and then the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Jack won 150 races that year, good for earnings of nearly $7 million. But poor real estate investments and getting swindled by his venture partners sent Van Berg’s financial fortune and training business downhill. The swoon continued for decades, and the one-time dominant and champion trainer hit bottom in 2013 when he won just 1 race in 121 starts.    

In recent years nearing the age of 80, Jack shifted his training base from the West Coast to a circuit consisting of Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and Kentucky for the rest of the year. He maintains a stable of nearly 30 horses.

The biography of Jack’s life is chronicled in the book “Jack, From Grit to Glory – A Lifetime of Mentoring, Dedication and Perseverance, written by Nebraska native Chris Kotulak, published in 2013.  One of Jack’s five children, Tim died in his sleep at age 59 in 2017. He was a former top assistant trainer to his dad.