Van Berg, Bale reunited at Horsemen's Park -
Published Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm / Updated at 7:16 pm
Van Berg, Bale reunited at Horsemen's Park
PAT'S picks
Selections by World-Herald turf writer Mike Patterson for Sunday's races

First race: Just Hank, Farewell Broadway, Cheatin Cowboy

Second race: Halo's Rocket, BG Gift Exchange, Cattle Baron

Third race: Amargosa, Seniorita Starz, Lottery Lass

Fourth race: King Tymatt, Ittakestwobaby, Made the Team

Fifth race: Frankie Jo, CR Guy, Winning Verdict

Sixth race: Libbys Little Hawk, High Speed Justice, Recovery Girl

Best bet: Just Hank in the first

Today's flyer: Flashy Mike in the second

The second day of live racing at Horsemen's Park turned into a reunion for two old friends from the Ak-Sar-Ben days.

Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg was in Omaha on Saturday and stopped by the racetrack to visit his friend Laurie Bale. In 1976, Van Berg named a filly after then 13-year-old Laurie — Miss Laurie Bale — and the horse went on to win several races.

“That was such an honor for me,” Bale said. “There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think of Jack and (jockey) Sam Maple.”

There was always a special bond between the burly trainer and the little girl in the wheelchair who was afflicted with muscular dystrophy. The fourth race at Horsemen's Park on Saturday was named in honor of Bale, who is now 49 and works at Marriott.

Van Berg, who is currently training at California's Hollywood Park, had to catch a flight and left before that fourth race. But the two spoke for a while in the air-conditioned clubhouse as Bale and her friends enjoyed cake while celebrating her July 13 birthday.

“I can remember when Laurie was little,” Van Berg said. “She's always been a fighter and a real inspiration.”

Van Berg said he was coming back from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to have a heart checkup and wanted to attend Saturday's races to reconnect with Laurie before flying to the West Coast.

Never one to mince words, the Columbus native still has strong feelings about the closing of the Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in the mid-1990s.

“It's a crying shame that they tore Ak down,” Van Berg said. “It's the worst thing they could have done, and everyone in this city except the politicians knows it.”

Bale said she also hasn't forgotten what was once one of the top racetracks in the nation.

“I try to avoid going by there as much as I can,” she said. “We drove past the other day and I had to turn my head.”

Bale said she first met Van Berg at Ak-Sar-Ben in 1975 when her parents took her to the track's stable area for her birthday. She met the trainer and told him she had a dream in which Van Berg's horse Gray Bar won the Omaha Gold Cup — the richest race of the meet for 3-year-olds.

Gray Bar did indeed win, and Van Berg invited Laurie into the winner's circle.

That was the start of a 37-year friendship between the two. Bale said she still keeps track of Van Berg's horses via the Internet, though face-to-face meetings are rare.

Until Saturday.

“What Jack did for me once upon a time made my life great,” she said. “I have a lot of fond memories, and it meant so much to see him out here again today.”

As for Saturday's six races, an estimated 5,000 fans endured temperatures that were in the mid-90s for the second straight day. Most sought out air-conditioned comfort in the clubhouse or watched the races from the shaded grandstand.

The on-track mutuel handle for the day was $129,175.

“We're not really going to compare this year with last year until our meet is over,” Horsemen's Park general manager Greg Hosch said. “It's been miserably hot, but I'm still happy with the way things have gone.”

Racing will continue Sunday with six races. First post is 2 p.m.

Contact the writer:


First race: Purse $6,000, 3-years-old and up, fillies and mares, one mile. T: 1:41.80.
6—Seekandyeshallfind.....................6.80, 3.80, 2.60
3—Alexandria Marie.....................6.60, 2.80
2—U Know What I Like.....................2.40
Exacta: 6-3 paid $36.60. Trifecta: 6-3-2 paid $61.80.

Second race: Purse $6,500, 4-years-old and up, fillies and mares, six furlongs. T: 1:13.
3—Diva in Training.....................6.60, 3.80, 3.00
2—Flyinthepolarroute.....................4.40, 3.20
1—Thunder Gal.....................3.20
Daily Double: 6-3 paid $22. Exacta: 3-2 paid $44. Trifecta: 3-2-1 paid $84.40.

Third race: Purse $8,000, 3-years-old and up, colts and geldings, six furlongs. T: 1:14.80.
5—Bozo.....................11.40, 4.80, 2.80
7—Don's Will.....................6.20, 2.80
Pick 3: 6-3-5 paid $249.60. Exacta: 5-7 paid $49.60. Superfecta: 5-7-3-2 paid $85.40. Trifecta: 5-7-3 paid $116.40.

Fourth race: Purse $7,000, 4-years-old and up, colts and geldings, one mile. T: 1:40.60.
3—Osceola Lightning.....................6.40, 3.40, 2.80
1—Blue Lion.....................3.20, 2.80
5—Streaking Silver....................2.60
Pick 3: 3-5-3 paid $140.10. Exacta: 3-1 paid $13. Trifecta: 3-1-5 paid $36.20.

Fifth race: Purse $27,500, 3-years-old, fillies, one mile. T: 1:41.20.
3—Classy Affair.....................7.80, 3.00
4—Bumper's Shadow.....................2.80
2—Lil Girl.....................NA
Pick 3: 5-3-3 paid $50.10. Exacta: 3-4 paid $9.40.

Sixth race: Purse $12,000, 3-years-old and up, colts and geldings, six furlongs. T: 1:13.
3—Early Final.....................21.20, 5.00, 3.60
6—Buffalo Creek Hawk.....................3.60, 2.60
Pick 3: 3-3-3 paid $71.90. Pick 4: 5-3-3-3 paid $802.60. Daily Double: 3-3 paid $95. Exacta: 3-6 paid $99.80. Superfecta: 3-6-7-5 paid $1,885. Trifecta: 3-6-7 paid $709.80.

Contact the writer: Mike Patterson    |   402-444-1350    |  

Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer.

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