Hall of Fame trainers Ron McAnally and Jack Van Berg were honored at the annual Edwin J. Gregson Foundation dinner at The Grand Del Mar on August 9.
More than 350 guests attended the banquet, sponsored by California Thoroughbred Trainers as a fund-raiser to improve the quality of life for California backstretch workers and their immediate family members.
The dinner raised $165,000 for a total of $1.3 million since its inception 10 years ago, a large percentage of the $3 million in the foundation’s overall gift pool.
A large portion of the proceeds from the dinner go to college scholarships, which have generated about $450,000 in 260 grants for 105 individuals during the past decade.
The scholarship committee of the foundation has received 12 new applications for this year and will consider continued funding for 19 previous grant recipients.
Van Berg spoke from first-hand knowledge of the importance of the scholarships. Samuel Almaraz, son of his long-time stable foreman Sammy Almaraz, qualified for such a grant in 2008 to study architecture at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. “He could be in line for a job starting at $200,000 a year, and he came from nothing,” said Van Berg.
Septuagenarians Van Berg and McAnally, inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1985 and 1990, respectively, were feted at the gala emceed by Frank Mirahmadi, who kept the audience in stitches with his wide range of vocal impressions.
Owner Mace Siegel, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron and veterinarian Jack Robbins served as guest speakers with stories about the honorees following a video tribute of the duo’s career highlights presented by HRTV.
Siegel credited both for giving back to the industry and how they also contributed to society in other ways, such as McAnally’s donations to an orphanage and Van Berg volunteering as an ubiquitous auctioneer.
Robbins recalled discovering McAnally asleep as a groom in a stall for trainer Reggie Cornell in 1948, nicknaming him “Nappy” and beginning a positive relationship that has lasted for 62 years.
McCarron, who rode such greats as Horses of the Year John Henry for McAnally and Alysheba for Van Berg, bantered with the pair over a couple of botched works aboard the stars.
“I put my kids through school because of the horses they put me on,” said McCarron. “What an honor to work with two gentlemen who were class acts all the way through.”
The foundation is named in memory of trainer Eddie Gregson, who was the driving force in the initial creation of the organization.