02/09/2004 12:00AM

Young Van Berg takes swing in stakes


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Tom Van Berg, whose father and grandfather are Hall of Fame trainers, is the third generation of his family to race at Oaklawn Park. He is new to the meet, and brought a small string of horses to town for the stakes program.

Van Berg will take his first swing at such competition when he starts Salzurita in Saturday's $50,000 Pippin Stakes. A steppingstone to the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom, the Pippin is the first of two stakes this weekend.

The other is the $50,000 Martha Washington, a one-mile race for 3-year-old fillies on Monday, Presidents Day - making for six consecutive days racing here this week.

Salzurita is one of four stakes-caliber horses Van Berg has brought to Oaklawn. He has another 24 head based at a training center in Kentucky.

"The four that are here really didn't need to be up [in Kentucky] in the winter, where you can't always train day to day," Van Berg said. "They needed a place to train every day. Oaklawn was a natural choice. It wasn't too far away from the Kentucky string. It was a natural place to bring them."

Van Berg, who turned 35 last week, comes from a family that has excelled not only in racing but also at Oaklawn. His grandfather, Marion Van Berg, won eight owner titles at the track between 1960 and 1970, while his father, Jack Van Berg, was the leading trainer at Oaklawn in 1983 and 1984.

"My dad will probably be down here next weekend for the Pippin," Tom Van Berg said. "He'll come in and spend a couple of days, just to visit."

Salzurita is a multiple stakes winner. In her last start, she finished third behind race-winner Blue Guru in an allowance prep for the Pippin. She is owned by David Korkames, and is expected to face Grade 3 winner Sue's Good News, among others, on Saturday.

Other quality horses Tom Van Berg has at Oaklawn are Sonic West, who is being pointed for the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn on Feb. 21. His last three wins have come in stakes. His most recent start was a second by a head in the $50,000 Prairie Bayou at Turfway Park on Dec. 13.

Sonic West, a 5-year-old who has earned $221,640, is owned by Stone Spire, LLC.

Cherokee Prince is another quality runner Van Berg brought to Oaklawn. His long-term goal is the $100,000 Alysheba on the Kentucky Oaks undercard at Churchill Downs in May. Jack Van Berg trained Alysheba, a Horse of the Year.

Tom Van Berg won with 19 percent of his 196 starters in 2003.

A Southern Tour-Forestry mating

Southern Tour, who won back-to-back runnings of the Carousel Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn in 2002 and 2003, has been retired and will be bred to Forestry, said her owner, Earl Bellamy.

Forestry is a Grade 1-winning sprinter and a son of Storm Cat.

Southern Tour, who was one of the region's top female sprinters, won 8 of 25 career starts and $340,330. She last raced Oct. 11, winning the $35,000 New Braunfels at Retama Park. Cole Norman trained Southern Tour, a Florida-bred daughter of Tour d'Or.

She is based at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., Bellamy said.

Three enjoy big week

Jockey Terry Thompson, second in the standings to John McKee, had a big week at Oaklawn. He won the feature races on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and a total of eight races for the week.

Thompson's biggest rides included Cowboy Stuff, who won his comeback off a nine-month layoff in an optional claimer Wednesday for trainer Don Von Hemel, and Eternal Cup, who captured the $50,000 American Beauty Stakes on Saturday for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen also won Saturday stakes at Delta Downs, and had 10 winners overall across the country on Saturday.

Von Hemel and his sons, Donnie and Kelly, each won at least one race Sunday at Oaklawn. Donnie Von Hemel won the second race with Yoursmineours ($3) and the fourth with Shezaroner ($10.60). Don Von Hemel won the eighth race with The Call Stands ($18), and Kelly Von Hemel took the 10th with Fred and Me ($18.20).

The Von Hemels each won a race on the same card last year at Oaklawn.

Marquez returns Wednesday

Jockey Carlos Marquez, Jr., who suffered a partially collapsed lung and a hairline fracture of two of his ribs in a spill on opening weekend, will resume race riding on Wednesday.

"He's been coming out in the mornings and getting on a couple of horses," said Larry Edwards, who is Marquez's agent. "He's had no soreness in the ribs."

Marquez, who is considered one of the top riders at Oaklawn, will be aboard Jill Rabbit in the fifth race. She is trained by Steve Hobby.

* There is a $24,059 pick six carryover for Wednesday