Thursday, February 14, 2013
The Man, the Mentor, the Legend
At some point or another when you consider yourself a fan of a sport, you owe it to yourself to learn about its history. Or, at the very least, learn about its icons.
It pays to know who Secretariat, Man o’War, Forego, and Dr. Fager are.
It pays to know who Jim Fitzsimmons, Laz Barrera, Tom Smith, and John Nerud are.
The latter just turned 100 years old and I know very little about him. I know he trained Dr. Fager, among others. Tom Gallo, of Parting Glass Racing, told me in Jiffy Lube two years ago that somebody (wink, wink) should write a biography about him.
A wise man even said, "If John Gaines was the Father of Breeders' Cup, then John Nerud is its "Good Uncle.”
Horse racing has better days behind it than it does ahead, so it serves us well to look into the expanded panorama of the rear-view mirror.
Nerud was born before the start of World War I, the War to End All Wars. We’ve since had a few more. He was 20 years old when Seabiscuit was foaled.
There is rarely a division of horse racing Nerud hasn’t graced. When Nerud helped found the Breeders’ Cup, it was with the noblest of intentions—to help popularize horse racing for the masses, to hook people on how special the game can be. He watched it become Viktor Franketstein’s wretch. Nerud, in his own words from johnnerud.com:
“As you know John Gaines dreamed this up…When this was born he and I both agreed that the Breeders Cup is only a marketing tool for racing – nothing else. You have one big day to draw attention to racing and it’s a marketing tool…Without racing breeders don’t have a place to sell their horses, but I don’t think the breeders have ever realized that. Anyhow, we wanted to spend everything on one day.
“I think they have lost their way with the Breeders Cup. The Breeders Cup is only an event. It wasn’t put together to bring a lot of money back to the breeders. They were expected to fund it so they would have a market to sell their horses, but the people in Kentucky think it belongs to the breeders and they should make a profit off it, which is wrong.
“I haven’t been to meetings and I don’t know what their ideas are but we have never had a CEO in charge of the Breeder’s Cup that is independent. Every CEO we have ever had running the Breeders Cup has been an inside man. If the Breeders Cup is to be run right they have to get an outside person with the ability and the education – I don’t care if he has never seen a horse – he has to be a strong executive and not part of the good old boys club.
“That is what is wrong with the Breeders Cup, it is run as a good old boys club. Until we get rid of that attitude, it’s not going to work. I don’t think we will ever get it straightened out. The Kentucky breeders are a very close-knit group. They are the center of the breeding world and they know it. It is very difficult for an outsider to get in and make a very big splash. I did. I was on five committees and chairman of the marketing committee for 10 years. I had a pretty strong voice but they got rid of me.”
Nerud celebrated his 100th birthday before a crowd of 50-60 friends and colleagues in Sands Point, NY. It would appear, based on the above comment, he made many enemies in the sport, namely with the insular group of Kentucky breeders. At age 100, it could be he watched some of them die, which must have felt sweet in its own right.
At the party, as reported by Steve Haskin of The Blood-Horse, Nerud said, “Finally, I’d like to tell you a story that best describes who I am now. There was an old avid golfer who used to come to church Sundays when it was raining and he couldn’t play. On this day he happened to be in church, and the minister said to the congregation, ‘I’m going to make you all feel good and have you forgive your enemies. All you people who will forgive your enemies raise your hand.’ Everybody raised their hand except the old golfer. The minister said to him, ‘You don’t want to forgive your enemies?’ The old golfer said to him, ‘I don’t have any enemies, I’ve outlived all the bastards.'”
May he outlive them all, every one of them.