Berger brings up 500 individual wins

Cambridge trainer Mike Berger is in elite company after recording his 500th win as a solo trainer. - Trish Dunell
Cambridge trainer Mike Berger is in elite company after recording his 500th win as a solo trainer.

Trish Dunell

Five hundred wins is a massive milestone for any trainer, but Cambridge horseman Mike Berger managed to reach that target for a second time a few weeks ago at his local meeting.

Berger, who has trained in partnership with Simon Pavlovich and Warren Rich, reached the milestone back in 2010 and late last month stable junior driver Scott Iremonger reined home Arty Pharty to record Berger’s 644th win, and more importantly his 500th as an individual trainer.

With that result, Berger became the first Waikato-based trainer to reach 500 wins in a solo capacity.

While Charlie Hunter and John Butcher have more career wins (799 and 717 respectively), Berger has bettered their individual win tallies of 424 (Hunter) and 374 (Butcher).

Berger was pleased to reach the momentous target in his own right as well as setting a new benchmark for the Waikato region.

“It was good to hit that target,” he said. “I hadn’t realised until one of my owners had pointed it out.

“It has taken a long time, but I suppose that’s what you get for stickability.”

In a training career that has spanned nearly four decades, Berger said his love for the sport began as a child in South Auckland where he was taken along to the races by his parents.

“I was brought up in Otahuhu and Mangere and in the old days you used to get dragged to the races with your parents. They were the days when everyone went to the races and that’s where I got the bug,” he said.

Berger liked what he saw at the races and his interest in a career in the sport peaked when he saw a job advertised in the local paper.

“There was a job advertised in the paper, when I was still at school, with Graham Reaks, who was private training for a guy called Ron Hanford,” he said.

“I rang him up and he said I could come down in the weekends and holidays, which I did, and it all stemmed from there.

“There were quite a few trainers around Mangere in those days before it all got developed down by the airport.”

Berger enjoyed working with the horses and decided to enter the industry upon leaving school and made the brave decision to move away from his home region to follow his passion.

“When I got into it full-time I started off with Doug Grantham down in Normanby, just out of Hawera,” he said.

“I then headed over to Australia where I worked for a good trainer called Bill Picken.”

With a solid grounding in Australasia, Berger decided to expand his horizons and moved to Canada for 14 months to experience the North American harness racing scene.

“It was a really good experience working in Canada,” Berger said. “It’s completely different racing and a completely different way of training to what I’d seen here.”

Berger subsequently returned to New Zealand to work for legendary trainer Roy Purdon before deciding to take the leap into training in his own right at the age of 25-years-old.

“I went out on my own and went private training for Graham Mackie,” he said. “He offered me a job training his horses and I thought it was a good opportunity.

“I then went out on my own and Graham left a few horses with me when I moved down to Morrinsville.

“I was mostly breaking-in and pre-training for a while before we got a few outside horses.”

After nearly 40 years in the training game and 500 wins to his name, Berger can still remember the horse that kicked it all off for him.

“I recorded my first win as a trainer with Trade Direct. He had to be pretty good because I drove him myself,” he joked.

It was one of seven wins for Berger as a driver, but he said it soon became apparent that his future lay with training.

“I moved around a lot when I was younger, so I didn’t do that much driving,” he said. “When I started training it didn’t take me long to realise that I had to make a choice, either I wanted driving experience or I wanted 10 percent as a trainer.

“It was a pretty easy choice when you saw guys like Peter Wolfenden sitting in the stand and I was out there. I could work out for myself what I should be doing.”

While Berger elected not to persevere with his driving endeavours, he grew a solid reputation as a trainer.

Berger amassed a strong record, which reached lofty heights in the early 2000’s when he recorded a number of Group One victories, including a career highlight of quinellering the 2002 Gr.1 New Zealand Trotting Cup (3200m) with Gracious Knight and Facta Non Verba.

“The year we won the Cup I was in partnership with Warren Rich,” Berger said.

“We were running a barn at Pukekohe (Rich’s) and a barn down here. Gracious Knight was more Warren’s side of the stable.

“Warren should get most of the accolades for winning it, but quinellering it between us was a big thrill, because it’s the Holy Grail of racing. How do you repeat that?”

While Facta Non Verba was the bridesmaid on that occasion, the son of Tuapeka Knight became a favourite of Berger’s and added two Group One victories to his training tally, including the City of Auckland Free-For-All (2200m) and Easter Cup (3200m).

“Facta Non Verba gave us some great thrills,” Berger said. “He was just such a tough horse and he raced for so long and he took me around to a lot of different places.

“We went to Australia with him a couple of times and down south a few times. He was really good.”

Gracious Knight added a second Easter Cup victory to Berger’s record in 2002, and the Waikato horseman’s Group One tally was further enhanced to six in subsequent years with victories by Coburg (NZ Standardbred Breeders’ Stakes, 1950m) and V For (Taylor Mile, 1609m).

Berger has trained a number of horses in his 40 year training career, and while Group One-winning horses are special, he highlighted multiple Group Three winner Supreme Ruler as one of his all-time favourites.

“A horse called Supreme Ruler really helped me out when I first started out training,” he said.

“He was a tiny little fella, but he went to open class as a three-year-old and that probably gave my training career a good boost.

“He was a super little horse that helped me out a lot.”

Berger said he has enjoyed the support of a loyal bunch of owners over the years and he has a particular appreciation for well-known breeders Sandy and Jan Yarndley who have been great supporters of the stable.

“I’ve had a loyal bunch of owners, Sandy and Jan Yarndley have been huge supporters, they probably kept me going. I did a lot of pre-training and breaking in (for them early on), which put the butter on the bread.”

Although in the twilight of his training career, Berger said there is still one race he would dearly love to win.

“I’d love to win a Young Guns Final (Gr.1, 1700m). We have had a couple of placings, but haven’t been able to crack one yet.” – Cambridge Raceway


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