Tomorrow, February 9, 2013, legendary horseman, John Nerud will celebrate his 100th birthday. His contribution to the game through his training, breeding, and owning of thoroughbred horses is among the most influential in the history of the sport. I personally wish Mr. Nerud a very happy birthday, and in honor of the great man’s centennial birthday, I offer the following list of the five greatest horses he trained.
1. Dr. Fager – I never argue with anyone that says The Good Doctor was the greatest horse who ever lived, because that would mean I would be arguing with my father. Set on this earth as a wild horse-a-fire, there was no one ever quite like Dr. Fager. With his wicked flowing mane and his relentless early speed, the son of Rough’n Tumble struck fear into his competition and even their connections. Despite having peers like Damascus, Buckpasser, and In Reality, there were only four horses who ever finished ahead of Dr. Fager, in Damascus twice, and Buckpasser and Successor once. In each of those three defeats, (he finished 3rd to Damascus and Buckpasser in the 1967 Woodward) the great Tartan Stable runner was hampered by the circumstances. Being wrangled back early in his career in the Champagne Stakes proved to be no way to the let the wild horse run, and then a strong dose of rabbits were needed for even the great Damascus and Buckpasser to get by him. In 1968, he carried 130 or more every time, and still shattered track and world records. His feat that year of being named Sprint, Turf, Handicap, and Horse of the Year is one likely never to be duplicated.
2. Gallant Man – Best known for the unfortunate circumstances behind his defeat in the 1957 Kentucky Derby when rider, Willie Shoemaker misjudged the finish line, it is easy to forget what an outstanding racehorse Gallant Man was. An overpowering winner of the Belmont Stakes, he also won the Travers, Met Mile, Hollywood Gold Cup, Peter Pan, Sunset Handicap, Nassau County Handicap, and the Hibiscus at 6 furlongs and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 2 miles, proving his great versatility. As a member of one of the finest foal crops in the history of American racing, which included Bold Ruler and Round Table, Gallant Man was never awarded a racing championship of any kind. After retiring Gallant Man did receive the accolades he so richly deserved, though, as he was elected to the Hall of Fame and ranks #36 in Blood-Horse magazine’s List of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century.
3. Ta Wee – The greatest female sprinter to ever live? Again, I would not argue with anyone that would say so. Taking the mantle smoothly from her legendary older brother, Dr. Fager, the daughter of Intentionally was so dominant against her own gender that she was consistently weighted down with imposts of 130 pounds and more. A winner of 15 of 21 lifetime, Ta Wee won 13 stakes races during the 1969 and 1970 racing seasons. Back then there was no such thing as a Female Sprinter Award, but no matter for her as she faced off against males in four important stakes over the two years, with three wins and a 2nd. Named Sprint Champion in consecutive years, the amazing filly ended her career by winning the Fall Highweight under 140 pounds, while giving 19 to the runner-up, and then carrying 142 pounds to victory in the Interborough, while giving her closest competition 29 and 30 pounds respectively.
4. Intentionally – Like Gallant Man, this champion sprinter of 1959 raced before I was born, but his career record speaks clearly of his overall class. Beginning with a win in the Tyro Stakes of 1958, Intentionally was a multiple stakes winner in each of five consecutive seasons in a career that saw him win more than half of his career starts. Although his championship came in the sprint division, it is interesting to note that he was a four-time stakes winner at a flat mile, include a win in the Jerome by ten lengths. Proving he was more than just a sprinter, Intentionally ran a close second to the excellent Carry Back at ten furlongs, and actually finished his racing career with an easy win in the nine furlong, Seminole Handicap over that same foe. After retirement, Intentionally became a key component of the Florida breeding program, siring such diverse and important horses as Ta Wee, In Reality, Tentam, and Group Plan.
5. Cozzene – Mr. Nerud’s greatest turf horse, that is unless you consider Dr. Fager a turf horse, Cozzene was one of my favorite middle distance grass specialists of the 80’s. Never the most talented runner in the world, this gray son of Caro was a true hard-knocker. A solid horse on dirt, that saw him finish 4th of 10 in the 1984 Met Mile, it was when his masterful trainer switched him to the green stuff that his career really took off. Beginning in the summer of ’84, Cozzene ran in 12 races on the turf and was never out of the money, nor was he beaten by more than 1 ¾ lengths in any of them. In the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Mile, he made his first trip to California and struck the lead early in the stretch before succumbing to finish 3rd. He came back even better the following year, and culminated his championship season with an easy victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile of 1985.
There were so many other fine runners trained by John Nerud that it was hard to limit the list to a top five, but that is where I will stop. I invite you to tell me about your favorite Nerud runners over the years, and even more importantly, I invite you to wish the legendary horseman a very happy 100th birthday by leaving him a note at johnnerud.com.
Photo courtesy of johnnerud.com