05/31/2007 11:00PM

Economics, conditions lure Van Berg back to Louisiana


Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg said he cannot remember the last time he had a string of horses based at Louisiana Downs, where he won the title in 1976 and sent out Alysheba to win the Super Derby in 1987.

Recalling his last winner at the track, however, is easier. Piggybankprospect gave Van Berg his first winner of the meet Thursday, when he rolled to a 4 1/2-length win in a maiden claimer under Don Simington.

Van Berg moved 10 horses into Louisiana Downs last month, and said another 10 were due to arrive Friday night at his barn in Bossier City, La. He also maintains a division of horses at Hollywood Park.

"I think there's a lot of money to be made back there, the way the purse structure is," Van Berg said.

Van Berg said the variety of conditions here suit the horses he has moved to Louisiana Downs. He also said it made economic sense to have some horses here because operational costs are less than they are in California.

Van Berg, who will turn 71 this week, set a record for trainer wins in a year in North America in 1976, the same year he won the title at Louisiana Downs. His record was broken in 2004 by Steve Asmussen, who also has a string of horses at Louisiana Downs.

Van Berg gave his local stable time to acclimate upon its arrival this meet. Piggybankprospect was his fourth starter here this season, and he said he plans to be more active racing here in the coming week. He is splitting his time between California and Louisiana Downs.

"They've settled in good," he said of his local string. "I've got two in on Sunday, and I run a bunch of them next week.

"Most of the horses are young horses. I don't have any really old claimers because I haven't been in the claiming business [lately]. That's what I want to get back into, claiming horses."

Van Berg said he plans to be active claiming here. He also has several promising horses in his barn, and one of interest that was on the way here Friday is Film Fortune. A 4-year-old, he is stakes-placed and a half-brother to multiple Grade 2 winner House of Fortune.

"He could run in some good races," said Van Berg, who last week was in Bossier City.

"Louisiana Downs is much the same, except for the casino now," he said. "I mean, as far as the racetrack and everything, it's the same. I always liked Louisiana Downs."

Allowance serves as River Cities prep

Wild Encounter, a multiple stakes winner in Texas, makes her Louisiana Downs debut in the featured eighth race, a 7 1/2-furlong turf allowance for fillies and mares. The race should produce starters for the $50,000 River Cities here June 23.

Others in the field include stakes winners I.B.'s Halo, Comalagold, and Olmosta. Intractabie and Game for More are recently stakes-placed. Wild Encounter is trained by Michelle Lovell, who has given the mount to Donnie Meche.

Longtime Oaklawn Park official Trant dies

Donna Trant, a longtime Oaklawn Park official who joined the Hot Springs, Ark., track as executive secretary in 1977, died Friday following a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 52.

Trant was a key member of Oaklawn's senior management team and among her responsibilities were directing accounting and human resources. She also was involved with the accounting for the country's first full-card simulcast program, and was key in the launch of Instant Racing, the electronic gaming now in place at Oaklawn.

Funeral services were pending.