Canadian trainer excited to be a part of Arlington Park's Opening Day
When Brittany Vanden Berg decided to end her wonderful ride as a jockey, she slid off her saddle and nestled into her new career as a trainer.
She has burst out of the starting gate on a journey that has been smooth and easier on her athletic frame.
The Windsor, Ontario native has had plenty to celebrate, including her engagement to veteran jockey Chris Emigh and, more recently, a successful run at Fairmount Park in downstate Collinsville, but she isn't satisfied. She turns 30 on Friday, and the pressure is on her fiance.
Emigh, Hawthorne Race Course's champion jockey of the year seven times, will be aboard Shanghai Point on Thursday, when Arlington International Racecourse celebrates its Opening Day (2 p.m. post time) after a nearly three-month delay, albeit with no expected fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vanden Berg has two other thoroughbreds, Trappe Valley and Splash For Gold, racing Thursday. She has two more horses running Friday and maybe a couple of more Saturday.
The birthday girl hopes to unwrap a victory and celebrate a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too weekend.
"That's the plan," Vanden Berg, who has 10 horses stabled at Arlington, said with a laugh. "I said to Chris, 'Don't screw this up, because it's my birthday, and I need a win on my birthday. Forget the chocolate cake. We just want to be in the winner's circle.' "
Considering what he and his fiancee have been pulling off on race tracks, Emigh shouldn't have any problem. At Fairmount last month, the team of Vanden Berg and Emigh did better than they expected, winning six of their seven races.
"It was unbelievable," Vanden Berg said. "For a horse trainer, it's ridiculously good to be at a 20% margin. I think in 2020, we're actually at 50% on the year.
"We're actually doing way better than my expectations. It's been a really fun ride to be on, that's for sure."
Vanden Berg rode horses competitively for seven years in Canada and in the States, and that's how she met Emigh, who's ridden more than 4,000 winners in his career. As their relationship blossomed, she entertained the idea of switching careers and becoming a full-time trainer.
"I thought, 'Maybe I'll take one more year riding and we'll discuss it a little bit,' because I was still enjoying riding too," Vanden Berg said. "But I had gone to Fairmount Park to watch Chris race. It was at the beginning of (last) year. This guy approached me and said, 'Do you know of any horse trainers at Arlington? We would like to maybe buy a horse and bring it up to Arlington.' I said, 'Yeah, me,' just as a joke. He said, 'Really? OK.' Right from there, it just branched out. I worked out how to get my license, and he put a bundle of horses on me."
It took her only three tries to score her first win as a trainer, as Trappe Valley captured the second race of the Sunday card at Arlington last June 9. She needed 18 tries to notch her first win as a jockey.
When she was younger, she trained barrel-racing horses at her family's farm in Woodslee, outside of Windsor.
"The thing that I liked about being a jockey was just being able to go fast," Vanden Berg said. "But the training is really the most-rewarding thing to me because you get to see progression. You get to look at things, look at the horse, look at the animal, and somehow figure them out to bring them to their best potential. That was what did it for me."
And there appears to be no slowing down in her future.