Van Berg hoping his Claiming Crown success can continue with Junior Bug

National HBPA press release. (Above: Tom Van Berg showing his family’s personal silks at an owners’ appreciation event he and wife, Angi, held during last year’s Claiming Crown, where the stable went on to win two races at Churchill Downs. Gwen Davis/Davis Innovation photo)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023) — Last year Tom Van Berg had his first Claiming Crown starters when he ran five horses in three races at his hometown track, Churchill Downs, winning the Tom Metzen Memorial Canterbury with Petit Verdot and the Rapid Transit with The Queens Jules by a nose. But the celebration started even before the first race as Van Berg and his wife, Angi, used the opportunity to host their clients at the event as the stable’s owners appreciation day for a banner year.

Van Berg’s contingent will be smaller this year at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans with his only definite starter being Grit to Glory Racing’s Junior Bug in the $75,000 Claiming Crown Ready’s Rocket Express. The trainer is leaning toward scratching his other two entries, Northern Diamond in the Glass Slipper and Knight’s Cross in the Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial, saying the forecast for a wet track and the way the races shaped up make it harder to justify the ship from Louisville.

Though favored Concrete Glory and Caramel Chip loom in the field, Van Berg believes Junior Bug is sitting on a big effort. 

“He’s running great right now,” Van Berg said. “He’s running the best he’s ever run. He’s on top of his game, healthy, happy, came out of his last race in great shape. And he likes the mud, which it looks like it will probably be.”

Van Berg said his clients tried to acquire more Claiming Crown horses via the claim box, but other people had the same idea. For instance, they were out-shook in a $40,000 optional claiming allowance race Oct. 4 at Horseshoe Indianapolis for Shimmer Me Timbers, who finished second by a head that day. He’ll be one of the favorites in the $150,000 Canterbury Tom Metzen Memorial (race 7, post time 3:45 p.m. CT) at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf for new owner Ken Ramsey and trainer Robertino Diodoro.

Van Berg also lost out to Diodoro for King’s Ovation, who is 4-1 in the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel at 1 1/8 miles on the main track.

“I love the Claiming Crown and always look for those horses,” Van Berg said. “You can’t take an $8,000 starter horse and run for a $75,000 purse very often. We always look to see if they are Claiming Crown-eligible. It just adds another revenue stream possibility when you claim a horse if you can point to something like that.”

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.