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Last summer John O'Hara, his assistant trainer at Santa Anita, gladly left the New Jersey outfit he was with to move to California and work for Van Berg. "If you work hard," says O'Hara, "you can go anywhere with Jack. I want to know every little thing he does and why he does it. He can be totally disgusted with something you do, but never holds a grudge on you personally. Two minutes after yelling at you, he'll put his arm around your shoulders and start joking. Jack keeps people around him who want to succeed. He doesn't pay top dollar, and the reason is, Jack wants people who want to work hard and go somewhere. He'll give you enough rope to pull yourself up a little bit higher—or to hang yourself."
At 7:30 p.m. Van Berg is on the road again, driving through a blizzard to get to Louisville's Standiford Field. He's on an 8:15 flight to Albany, with a change in Pittsburgh. As it turns out, it's the last flight to get off the ground before the airport is closed. At Pittsburgh he makes a few phone calls, gets on another plane, and falls asleep. He snores so loudly that the woman sitting next to him starts giggling uncontrollably. Blissfully unaware, Van Berg saws wood until 11 p.m., when the plane lands in Albany. After a quick meal at a nearby restaurant, he finds an inexpensive motel and goes to sleep.
At 7 a.m. Van Berg is trying to clean a foot of snow off the car's windshield with his bare hands. The storm has raged all night, and it's still snowing. Van Berg pulls into a supermarket and stocks up on food: apples, crackers, cheese and soft drinks. "If this car gets stuck out there, I'm not going to die of starvation," he says. After all, would Duke Wayne go out in a blizzard unprepared? Van Berg drives slowly along treacherous roads to Morris Levy's Sunnyview Farm, where he evaluates 57 colts and fillies for the owner. A groom leads the horses up and down the shed-row, and Van Berg keeps up a running commentary, rating each one from 4 to 9. "Keep this one," he says of a nice chestnut, giving her a 9. "She's a real beauty. That one needs to be turned out. Send that one to Suffolk."
After a break for lunch and a slew of phone calls, Van Berg is back on the road at 2:30 p.m., heading for the Albany airport. Two days of bad weather have resulted in canceled and delayed flights, and the airport is filled with angry and frustrated travelers. But Van Berg remains calm, despite the fact that he can't get to New Orleans as he had planned. He simply switches to Plan B: Go to New York City. He calls assistant trainer Joe Petalino at Belmont Park and tells him he's coming in and to have that filly ready for him to work on. When Van Berg arrives at JFK at 6:30 p.m., Joe is waiting to whisk him over to Belmont. At his barn Jack buckles on a leather blacksmith's apron and goes to work cutting an abscess out of the filly's frog. It's backbreaking work, and he has to stand up and stretch a few times before he's finished. Why is he doing this himself? "Because the blacksmith's afraid to cut deep enough," Van Berg says. He's racing the clock. His flight to California leaves from La Guardia Airport at 8:20.
Kelly O'Hara, an exercise rider, speeds through the snow and howling winds to get Van Berg to La Guardia. "You can drive for me anytime," he tells her as she careers down the Grand Central Parkway. Van Berg is on time; the flight has been canceled. Back on the phone he gets, calling Anne in Kentucky and his contacts at Delta. "See if you can get me on a plane to California tonight," he says. "I've got a horse in the eighth at Santa Anita tomorrow." Finally he gets a seat on a plane leaving La Guardia at 9:20 p.m.—but the flight has been delayed until 11:55 p.m.
"Let's eat," says Van Berg. His knee is killing him, and he's limping as he walks into Stella's, a popular Italian restaurant near Belmont Park. Naturally, they know him here. The place is crowded, and people are waiting to be seated, but a table is quickly found for Van Berg. After a hearty dinner, he returns to La Guardia. Another delay. The plane will not leave until 1:10 a.m. The boarding area is crammed with noisy, disgruntled passengers. Van Berg sits down and reads Louis L'Amour.
When he finishes the book he strikes up a conversation with two young men sitting near him. "I've got to get to L.A.," he says. "I've got a horse running tomorrow."
"Oh, yeah?" says one guy. "My father owns harness horses. What's your name?"
"Van Berg," he says. The name doesn't register.