Edited Gulfstream Staff Release – Trainer Brittany Vanden Berg has ventured to Gulfstream Park for the first time in her highly promising career, choosing to challenge herself during the 2023-2024 Championship Meet that gets underway Friday.
“We bounced around a few options, but we landed on Gulfstream. Obviously, the weather is great, but we wanted to push ourselves,” said Vanden Berg, who has been accompanied to South Florida by her husband Chris Emigh, a veteran jockey with nearly 4400 wins, who will ride at Gulfstream for the first time. “We wanted to surround ourselves with great horses and great trainers. We wanted to go to a place that would push us to get better.”
The 32-year-old Ontario, Canada native will leap right into action in the opening-day feature, saddling multiple graded stakes-placed Bad Beat Brian for Race 8, a five-furlong optional claiming allowance for 3-year-olds and up on a newly renovated turf course that has been widened 15 feet. The 6-year-old gelding, who was claimed for $40,000 in July 2022, has earned $286,725 this year in eight starts, including a second-place finish in the Shakertown (G2) at Keeneland and a third-place finish in the Turf Sprint (G2) at Kentucky Downs.
“We are very blessed to have him in our barn. We claim horses all the time. Some work out and some don’t,” said Vanden Berg, who has 20 stalls at Gulfstream. “He’s worked out. He’s the barn favorite. He gives it his all every time.”
Vanden Berg, a daughter of farmers, has been involved with horses her whole life. She began barrel racing as a child.
“My mom put me on my first horse when I was very small. I got into barrel racing when I was 4 years old. I did that for a long time. We went to the World Show,” she recalled. “Then I wanted to dabble into something different.”
Instead of riding horses around barrels, Vanden Berg began riding Thoroughbreds around a racetrack. She rode her first winner at Thistledown Oct. 24, 2012 and rode primarily in the Midwest for eight years, winning 80 races from 596 mounts. Upon retiring from riding, she started training in 2019.
Vanden Berg, who saddled her first winner at Arlington Park July 12, 2019, has maintained an impressive 27-percent winning percentage with 188 winners from 706 starters heading into the Championship Meet.
“I don’t like to lose,” she said. “I’m not a poor sport, but I am a lousy loser.”
Vanden Berg, though, is not inclined to set lofty goals for her first Championship Meet.
“I always try to take it one race at a time. If you come in with high expectations and something happens, you end up disappointed,” she said. “I feel if you set the bar too high, there’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed.”
Vanden Berg and Emigh, who have been married two years, have a solid relationship on track as well.
“It’s been great working together. I don’t tell him what to do, riding-wise, and he doesn’t tell me how to train,” she said. “We have trust in each other.”