Updated on 08/17/2015 8:27AM

Horsemen reflect on the death of John Nerud

Email

Mike Hushion, trainer

“A lot of people don’t know that he helped establish the HBPA in New York. He helped establish the backstretch health plan for all the workers. He was one of the first advocates for backstretch workers. He was way ahead of his time on that.

“I was privy to a lot of his old stories. I would just eat all that stuff up. He once told me that he never should have run Dr. Fager on the turf. He did it just to show off.”

Craig Fravel, president of Breeders’ Cup

“Working closely with John Gaines and the initial founders, Mr. Nerud combined acute judgement, incredible boldness, and powers of persuasion to help create a unique international championship event for horse racing. His interest and participation as a member of the Breeders’ Cup continued to the end. Mr. Nerud leaves a remarkable legacy, and all of us who love racing mourn his passing.”

Todd Pletcher, trainer

“He saw something in Wayne [Lukas] very early on and gave him an opportunity in his Thoroughbred racing career that was very pivotal to his success. Wayne had a pretty good run from there, you could say.”

Mark Hennig, trainer

About six or seven years ago, Hennig filled out a survey in the Dogwood Stables newsletter in which he “answered that if I was going to have dinner with someone in the racing industry, it would be John Nerud. Ten days later, I got a phone call from Mr. Nerud, and he says, ‘I read somewhere that you want to have dinner with me. My wife and I would love to have you over.’ And I said, ‘Well, of course, sir.’

“He showed us around the house, the estate; Jan [Nerud, his son] lives right in front of him there. It was really neat, like being in a museum. [We talked about] everything. Everything. He obviously had Codex, with Wayne, and I raced Star of Cozzene, and he raced Cozzene, and we talked about Dr. Fager and the state of the industry, and we talked about what he thought about the changes that were being made to the Breeders’ Cup, all of those things.

“[The experience] just made him more real. You watch these people you idolize, and you don’t ever dream about having the opportunity to have dinner with them. That opportunity was just really cool. And it was his class that made it happen. There’s not many people who would read that and make it happen, especially as quick as he did.”

Barclay Tagg, trainer

“When I was riding jumpers in New York, I would see him training, and I knew that he was hallowed even then. I followed his career all the way through, the way he managed his breeding operation, the way he ran the farm, all that stuff. One day about 10 years ago or so, I was at the Keeneland sale, and I was talking to Frank Whiteley, and Johnny Nerud was there, and I said, ‘You look really good, Mr. Nerud.’ He said, ‘You know, son, there are three stages to life: youth, middle age, and, ‘Gee, you look good.’ ”

Did you look up to him? “Why wouldn’t you?”

Stuart Janney III and Ogden Mills ‘Dinny’ Phipps

“John Nerud leaves behind a rich legacy of accomplishment, not only as an owner, breeder, and trainer but also as a driving force in the creation, launch, and growth of the Breeders’ Cup. He saw things from a unique perspective and never hesitated to share his feelings in a clear manner. He maintained a deep passion for Thoroughbred breeding and racing throughout his life, and we extend our sincere condolences to his entire family.”

Calf Nafzger, former trainer

“He meant everything to me. He put good horses in my barn. He made me the trainer on his farm. You can’t imagine what it was like working with him. He was the master. No one knew a horse better than him. No one was ever a better horseman. We had such a great relationship. And what was amazing about him is that he had a great perspective on the entire business. It wasn’t one or two things or having a bit of understanding about a lot of things. He understood everything, top to bottom, from the racetrack to bloodstock to the board room to running a farm and a business and knowing horses and horsemanship.”

Angel Cordero Jr., former jockey

“I talked to him about two months ago. We lived near each other. He called me and told me he had something for me. It was a picture of me and him from a long time ago. He said, ‘I want you to have this picture.’ We sat there for an hour. He was so clear. About everything. This and that horse. This and that race. He could remember everything. I was amazed. At his age, he remembered everything.

“I never rode for him early in my career. He was never real friendly with me until the end [of my career]. But then we became good friends, and I rode most of his horses. My best memory was Dr. Patches. [Dr. Patches] was running in non-winners of two and I kept beating him at the time. And I remember going to him and saying, ‘Hey, Mr. Nerud, when you going to put me on a horse?’ And he said, ‘When you keep bottling up my horse and beating me every time.’ And I said, ‘No, I beat you, but I ain’t bottling him.’ So he let me ride him. He was still running non-winners, but all of the sudden the horse woke up. So we went up to the Meadowlands, to run him against Seattle Slew. In the morning he wanted to scratch, he said, ‘I don’t want to [run] against this horse.’ I said, ‘We can beat him. The horse is doing real good. We can beat him.’ He said, ‘Don’t make me go all that way if the horse can’t win.’ I said, ‘I tell you what, if he doesn’t win, you don’t have to pay me.’ And I even told him, ‘I’ll ride for you for free for a whole week if he don’t win.’ He says, ‘You better be right you son-of-a-bitch.’ I said, ‘One week free, we don’t beat him.’ So we beat Seattle Slew this far [holds his hands apart approximately two inches and laughs].”

“Him and Allen Jerkens, they remembered everything. So clear, in their minds. He was a genius. He loved life, and I respected him. At least I had the pleasure to know him, to see him two months ago. He was always so funny with me. When I was leaving that last time, he says to me, ‘Lock the door, and don’t take anything with you, you son-of-a-bitch.’ He was a character. A great person. Not many people can do what he did. I’m going to miss him.”

Bill Mott, trainer

“I always connected to him a little bit because we were both from the Midwest. He was from Nebraska, and I was from South Dakota. So we always talked about that. Maybe the way we think about things, we were similar because of that."

“At 102 I guess you have to expect it, but it … it kind of brought a tear to my eye to hear that he was gone. He was a guy that had such a great view of the business, the overall business. He had a great perspective. He was someone you admired."

“Everyone that has been around him as fond memories. Sometimes he had his own, different view on things. He was like Allen Jerkens like that. If you ever wanted a different perspective on something, you could ask one of those guys. You’re not going to get the same answer that you get from the majority of the crowd. They looked at things from a different angle, and they made you think about things a little differently. John was one of those guys. Just a really special guy."

Angel Cordero, former jockey

“I talked to him about two months ago. We lived near each other. He called me and told me he had something for me. It was a picture of me and him from a long time ago. He said, ‘I want you to have this picture.’ We sat there for an hour. He was so clear. About everything. This and that horse. This and that race. He could remember everything. I was amazed. At his age, he remembered everything.

“I never rode for him early in my career. He was never real friendly with me until the end [of my career]. But then we became good friends, and I rode most of his horses. My best memory was Dr. Patches. [Dr. Patches] was running in non-winners-of-two, and I kept beating him at the time. And I remember going to him and saying, ‘Hey, Mr. Nerud, when you going to put me on a horse?’ And he said, ‘When you keep bottling up my horse and beating me every time.’ And I said, ‘No, I beat you, but I ain’t bottling him.’ So, he let me ride him. He was still running non-winners, but all of the sudden the horse woke up. So, we went up to the Meadowlands to run him against Seattle Slew. In the morning, he wanted to scratch. he said, ‘I don’t want to ride against this horse.’ I said, ‘We can beat him. The horse is doing real good. We can beat him.’ He said, ‘Don’t make me go all that way if the horse can’t win.’ I said, ‘I tell you what, if he doesn’t win, you don’t have to pay me.’ And I even told him, ‘I’ll ride for you for free for a whole week if he don’t win.’ He says, ‘You better be right, you son of a bitch.’ I said, ‘One week free, we don’t beat him.’ So, we beat Seattle Slew this far [holds his hands apart approximately two inches and laughs].

“Him and Allen Jerkens, they remembered everything. So clear, in their minds. He was a genius. He loved life, and I respected him. At least I had the pleasure to know him, to see him two months ago. He was always so funny with me. When I was leaving that last time, he says to me, ‘Lock the door, and don’t take anything with you, you son of a bitch.’ He was a character. A great person. Not many people can do what he did. I’m going to miss him.”

Bill Mott, trainer

“I always connected to him a little bit because we were both from the Midwest. He was from Nebraska, and I was from South Dakota. So, we always talked about that. Maybe the way we think about things, we were similar because of that.

“At 102, I guess you have to expect it, but it kind of brought a tear to my eye to hear that he was gone. He was a guy that had such a great view of the business, the overall business. He had a great perspective. He was someone you admired.

“Everyone that has been around him has fond memories. Sometimes he had his own, different view on things. He was like Allen Jerkens like that. If you ever wanted a different perspective on something, you could ask one of those guys. You’re not going to get the same answer that you get from the majority of the crowd. They looked at things from a different angle, and they made you think about things a little differently. John was one of those guys. Just a really special guy."

– compiled by Matt Hegarty

Don Crook More than 1 year ago
Thanks, Matt.
Union_Rags More than 1 year ago
Very GOOD.