Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron knew his good friend, trainer Jack Van Berg, was in failing health. He wanted one final chance to reach out and speak with the man who meant so much to so many in the horse racing industry.
“When I called him he was a little bit sedated, his voice was real scratchy, they had done some surgery and so forth, and he was having difficulty talking so we didn’t really talk for more than just a couple of minutes,” McCarron recalled Thursday by cell phone. “But I at least had an opportunity to tell him how much I love him and how much I respect him, what he meant to my career and what he meant to my family. I was tickled to death that I at least had that opportunity.”
The 81-year-old Van Berg, fourth on the all-time list of North American-based trainers with 6,523 victories, died Wednesday in Little Rock, Ark., after a long battle with cancer. He’ll always be most remembered as the trainer of 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Alysheba, whom McCarron rode, but he was so much more than just a talented horseman.
“His talent, his knowledge and his ability to prepare horses for races is only eclipsed by his desire and his motivation to help others,” McCarron said. “He never said no to anybody when it came time to participate in a charitable function.
“I read on Facebook this morning, several people saying how he’d fly all over the country. And Jack did that on his own dime. He never took a penny for it, for any of his participation as the emcee of an event or the auctioneer. And he was tough on the auctions, too. He would make people get up and spend. He was a very effective auctioneer when it came to charities.”
Van Berg, whose runners earned more than $85 million during a career that dates back to the 1950s, was known as much for buying children ice cream at the race track as he was for being a top-notch horseman. Both Van Berg and his father, Marion, are members of horse racing’s Hall of Fame….