“He’s a barn favorite, and when clients come out, they all want to see him” – from Daily Racing Form Mar. 21, trainer Tom Van Berg, who trains Darren’s Fortune for Sam Almaraz.
One of Woodbine’s most beloved horsemen, Darren Fortune, was lost to the community in 2017 when the accomplished rider was killed in a freak training accident on the track. A man who spent much of his working life helping horses and humans as an outrider at Canada’s famous track, the Barbados-born Fortune was a smiling face horsepeople loved.
Among those was the late Martha Gonzalez who had Fortune exercising horses for her stable she managed at Woodbine for her husband. Martha was at Fortune’s side in hospital when he passed away that awful day.
Gonzalez, similarly popular at Woodbine, wanted to remember her friend and named one of her yearling purchases of that year, a Kentucky-bred colt by Temple City, in honour of Fortune.
Darren’s Fortune, bought for $10,000 by Martha and Nick, was a tall, leggy fellow but as Martha once said, he was laid back and calm, so much like Fortune.
The newly gelded horse did not race as a 2-year-old, but at 3 in 2019 Darren’s Fortune showed that he was going to be an early winner. Unfortunately, he was claimed from a second-place finish in the summer and two starts later won his maiden for another owner.
His new owner and trainer took him to Arkansas in the winter of 2020 where he was claimed for $6,250 by Sam Almaraz and trainer Tom Van Berg, son of Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg. Darren’s Fortune went on the road an won races at Churchill Downs in Kentucky and Prairie Meadows in Oregon, improving with each outing.
It was when Almaraz and Van Berg elected to try marathon distances with the gelding in the fall of 2020 when Darren’s Fortune began to run faster than ever.
On Oct. 21 at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia, the gelding won a 1 5/8 mile starter allowance by 23 3/4 lengths and 33 days later won at 1 3/4 miles by 15 lengths.
When the gelding made his 2021 debut Mar. 21 back at Oaklawn Park, he attracted attention from Daily Racing Form reporter Mary Rampellini, who previewed the 1 1/2 mile optional race here.
As the 5 to 2 favourite, Darren’s Fortune won that return from a four-month layoff by leading throughout the long distance, picking up a whopping purse of $63,000 in the one race, more than he earned in all of 2020.
Van Berg noted that Darren’s Fortune has become popular in his barn and you have to think that Darren and Martha would be getting a real kick out of watching his namesake stroll through these big wins.
A group of Woodbine horsepeople affectionately known as ‘Martha’s friends’ have been cheering the gelding on, too. Dr. Vicky Banks said to Canadian Thoroughbred, “We are so happy to see he has gone on to be so successful.”