SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Hall of Fame trainer John Nerud, an influential figure in the thoroughbred racing industry, who for more than four decades trained a multitude of legendary stakes winners on the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit, passed this morning. He was 102.
Born in 1913 in Minatare, Nebraska, Nerud was first introduced to horses by his father, an immigrant from Prague who came to the United States in 1862. Nerud's equine career began around the time of the Great Depression, when he and his brother became horse traders before he decided to leave home to pursue wider endeavors in the industry.
His start at the racetrack began as a jockey agent for Hall of Fame rider Ted Atkinson. Following service in the Navy during World War II, Nerud returned to train and own thoroughbreds. The majority of his 44-year career was as principal trainer, president, and general manager of Tartan Farms in Ocala, Florida. Saddling more than 1,000 winners, among the many champions he trained were Delegate (1949), Intentionally (1950), Ta Wee (1969-70), and Dr. Patches (1978). He is best known for the career of Hall of Fame horse Dr. Fager. In 1968, Dr. Fager became the only thoroughbred in history to win four championships: Horse of The Year, handicap horse, sprinter, and turf horse.
Inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1972, and retired from training in 1978, Nerud became Tartan Farms racing manager, helping it develop into a formidable racing and breeding outfit. The last champion bred by Nerud for Tartan Farms was 1990 Horse of the Year and Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled.
Nerud's post-training achievements also included working closely with Breeders' Cup founder John Gaines in developing a World Championship day for racing and serving as chairman of the Breeders' Cup marketing committee for the first 10 years of its existence. Following his career at Tartan Farms, Nerud went on to breed 1985 Champion Turf Horse Cozzene, winner of the 1985 Breeders' Cup Mile, who was trained by his son, Jan.
Fittingly, Nerud's last homebred was named Final Chapter. The son of Thunder Gulch broke his maiden earlier this year at Aqueduct Racetrack on January 23 and followed with an allowance race victory on February 26, before closing out his season with an eighth-place finish in the Grade 3 Bay Shore with trainer Mike Hushion.
An integral part of the thoroughbred racing industry across various roles as a trainer, breeder, and visionary, Nerud, who was married to his longtime wife Charlotte for 69 years before her death in 2009, is survived by his son Jan, daughter-in-law Debra, and grandkids. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.
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