The news went largely unnoticed in the Twin Cities the other day when trainer John Nerud died at his home in Old Brookville, N.Y., at 102 years of age.
Nerud was a thoroughbred trainer of note who had connections to the only bluebloods of Minnesota racing, men and women who were part of the sport long before the state had a racetrack, the Genters, the McKnights and the Bingers.
Those families were Minnesota racing royalty and made their marks at a time when the sport was treasured nationally.
Nerud was a trainer for 44 years, most of it for Tartan Farms in Ocala., Fla., a breeding operation started by William McKnight of 3M, and run after his death by his son-in-law James Binger, who brought Honeywell to prominence. Nerud was also at the forefront in creation of the Breeders’ Cup.
Nerud trained some of the best horses in the nation for McKnight and Binger; the most famous, of course, was Dr. Fager, the marvelous sprinter who won four titles in a single year. In 1968 he was the champion sprinter, turf and handicap horse and was named Horse of the Year. Dr. Fager won 18 of 22 career starts.
Nerud trained other champions, including Delegate in 1949, Intentionally in 1950, Ta Wee in 1969-70 and Dr. Patches, a son of Dr. Fager, in 1979.
When he retired from training, Nerud remained as racing manager at Tartan Farms, turning it into one of the leading breeding operations in the nation. The farm stood not only Dr. Fager, but Intentionally, In Reality, Hold Your Peace, Codex and Smile, all horses who stood at or were bred at Tartan Farms.
Frances Genter, of course, campaigned Smile, a national sprint champion who ran at Canterbury Downs, in addition to Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, the colt bred by Tartan Farms who ran in Shakopee as a two-year-old.
Nerud was a native Nebraskan who as a youth competed as a rodeo cowboy and later became a groom. The Hall of Fame trainer at one time was an agent for Hall of Fame jockey Ted Atkinson.
Nerud had numerous notable successes but perhaps the biggest regret of his career followed the 1957 Kentucky Derby when Hall of Fame rider Bill Shoemaker misjudged the finish line, stood too early in the irons aboard Gallant Man, and lost the race by a nose to Iron Liege. A few weeks later, Gallant Man rebounded to win the Belmont Stakes.
Nerud bred a horse named Cozzene who was trained by his son, Jan, and won the 1985 Breeders Cup Mile.
As a trainer Nerud saddled more than 1,000 winners, 27 of them winners of stakes races.
The last champion Nerud bred for Tartan Farms was a son of Fappiano named Unbridled, who was purchased as a weanling in the farm’s dispersal sale by Genter Stables for $70,000.
Unbridled won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders Cup Classic and was named champion three-year-old colt, and the first event became a sports sound bite with trainer Carl Nafzger calling the race to the elderly Frances Genter at his side at Churchill Downs.
That particular race underscored the legacy of Genter Stables and the mark the Genters left on thoroughbred racing.