Man of the Century

The legendary horseman John Nerud was born some one hundred years ago on a cold February morning on the 9th day of the month, in the year 1913. Though he always will be identified with his immortal 1968 Horse of the Year Dr. Fager, the only Thoroughbred to win four championships in one year, Nerud trained such other notable horses as Dr. Fager’s kid sister Ta Wee, champion sprinter in 1969 and ’70; ’57 Belmont Stakes winner *Gallant Man; Dr. Patches, co-champion sprinter in ’78; and ’59 champion sprinter Intentionally. All carried the colors of Tartan Farms, for whom Nerud spent 30 years as trainer, president, and general manager.

Nerud jump-started trainer D. Wayne Lukas’s Thoroughbred career by sending him Codex, who won the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Hollywood Derby (G1), and Preakness Stakes (G1) in 1980.

Nerud was a prime mover in creating the Breeders’ Cup, helping Breeders’ Cup founder John Gaines to sell the concept to horsemen across the nation. In 1985, he won the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) with his homebred Cozzene, the year’s champion grass horse who was trained by his son, Jan. Nerud also bred and owned Fappiano, sire of the late champion and top stallion Unbridled, also a Tartan-bred.

More recently, he served as vice president of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. Never shy about expressing his opinion, Nerud proposed a ban of all medication within 72 hours of a race to the New York Thoroughbred Breeders’ board of directors. The proposal passed unanimously in 1999.

Born in Nebraska in 1913 and raised on a cattle ranch, Nerud traveled the country and Cuba as a rodeo cowboy, groom, jockey’s agent, and eventually a trainer. After serving in the United States Navy during World War II, he became an assistant to Frank Kearns, who trained for Herbert Woolf’s Woolford Farm. Woolf gave Nerud his first champion, Delegate, who was the co-
champion sprinter in 1949.

Nerud then went to work for the late William McKnight, chairman of 3M Corp. and founder of Tartan Farms, and quickly built Ocala-based Tartan into a national powerhouse on the racetrack and in the breeding shed. Besides developing an excellent broodmare band, Tartan stood Dr. Fager, Intentionally, In Reality, Hold Your Peace, Smile, and Codex.

The centenarian’s contributions to the thoroughbred horse business are perhaps without equal…Hall of Fame trainer, a trainer of trainers, a founder of the Breeders’ Cup, architect of the Tartan dynasty, legendary breeder, the driving force behind insurance for backstretch workers, and husband to his beloved wife Charlotte for 68 years, what he deemed his greatest accomplishment.

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