John Nerud, a thoroughbred racing pioneer who trained the great Dr. Fager and helped create the Breeders' Cup, died Thursday from heart failure. He was 102.
The National Museum and Racing Hall of Fame issued a statement that said his daughter-in-law, Debra Nerud, confirmed Nerud died at his home in Old Brookville, New York.
During his 44-year training career mostly for Tartan Farms in Ocala, Florida, Nerud won more than 1,000 races. His top horse was Dr. Fager, the first to win four championships in one year. In 1968, Dr. Fager was champion top sprinter, turf horse and handicap horse and chosen Horse of the Year. He won 18 of 22 career races.
Among other champions he trained were Delegate (1949), Intentionally (1950), Ta Wee (1969-70), and Dr. Patches (1978).
In 1957, Nerud was on the short end of one of the strangest finishes in Kentucky Derby history. Gallant Man, with Bill Shoemaker aboard, lost by a nose to Iron Liege after the Hall of Fame rider misjudged the finish line. A few weeks later, Gallant Man came back and won the Belmont Stakes.
Nerud was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1972.
Always thinking of ways to improve the game, Nerud helped John R. Gaines sell the concept of the Breeders' Cup, a day of championship races that has grown into a two-day event. The first Breeders' Cup was in 1984.
Breeders' Cup President Craig Favel said in a statement that ''Mr. Nerud leaves a remarkable legacy, and all of us who love racing mourn his passing.''
After he retired as a trainer, Nerud stayed on as racing manager at Tartan and turned the farm it into one of the nation's top breeding operations. Among those who stood at Tartan were Dr. Fager, Intentionally, In Reality, Hold Your Peace, Codex and Smile. The last champion bred by Nerud for Tartan was 1990 Horse of the Year and Derby winner Unbridled.
Born on a ranch in Minatare, Nebraska, on Feb. 9, 1913, Nerud worked as a rodeo cowboy and a groom before serving in the Navy during World War II. He returned to the track and trained his first champion in 1949, Delegate.
Nerud also won the 1985 Breeders' Cup Mile with Cozzene, a horse he bred that was trained by his son, Jan.
Nerud's last homebred was named Final Chapter. The son of Thunder Gulch broke his maiden earlier this year at Aqueduct, won an allowance race in February, and closed out his season with an eighth-place finish in the Bay Shore.
''In addition to the many great horses that he trained, owned and bred, and the advice and counsel he provided to grow the sport, Mr. Nerud made an enormous contribution to the formation of the Breeders' Cup,'' Favel said. ''Mr. Nerud combined acute judgment, incredible boldness and powers of persuasion to help create a unique international championship event for horse racing.''
Nerud, who was married to his wife Charlotte for 69 years before her death in 2009, is survived by his son Jan, daughter-in-law Debra, and grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.
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