Stewards to Van Berg: Pay Bill or Be Suspended

By Jack Shinar
Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg was notified he has until March 12 to pay off a longstanding veterinarian bill or face an indefinite suspension, stewards at Santa Anita Park ruled over the weekend.

The popular Van Berg, 65, has won more than 6,300 races in his career, including the 1987 Kentucky Derby with Alysheba, who also won the Preakness Stakes that year and the Breeders' Cup Classic in 1988, when he was voted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.

The trainer could not be reached for comment at his Hollywood Park stable Monday.

Van Berg's financial problems came to light last summer in a stewards1 hearing at Del Mar over his nonpayment of $34,000 in vet bills to Dr. Scott Merrell. He was ordered to pay the bill or face suspension. According to steward Ingrid Fermin, Merrell indicated at the time that an arrangement for payment had been made and Merrell continued to work as Van Berg's barn veterinarian.

While declining to state the exact total, Fermin said the amount Van Berg owes is in the five-figure range. The steward action was in response to a request made by Merrell, Fermin said.

Saturday's ruling said Van Berg would be "denied access to all premises" during the suspension. It would remain in effect until payment was made.

Van Berg was voted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1985, 15 years after his father, Marion.

He set a record in 1976, with 496 wins. He operated a huge stable in the Midwest at the time. Alysheba, who missed the Triple Crown when he was fourth in the Belmont Stakes, established a record for career earnings of $6.6 million when he was retired in 1988. That total now ranks sixth all-time. Van Berg also won the Preakness in 1984 with Gate Dancer.

But Van Berg has suffered through some lean years recently. Last year, he won 22 races from 226 starters. At Santa Anita, he has had 30 starters, winning four times.