If Thoroughbreds aren’t the Fountain of Youth, they must be the next thing to it for John Nerud. Racing’s grand old man (who turned 102 Feb. 9) got an early birthday present Jan. 23 when his homebred Final Chapter broke his maiden at Aqueduct (VIDEO). The gifts kept coming on Feb. 27, when Final Chapter won a 6 furlong allowance/optional claiming race at Aqueduct (VIDEO).
The last horse bred by Nerud, Final Chapter is the closing page in a turf career that has spanned eight decades. During that time Nerud became a Hall of Fame trainer but, more importantly, has wielded tremendous influence as a breeder.
Nerud’s history is entwined with that of Tartan Farms, where he served as trainer and general manager. He was directly responsible for acquiring one key element in Tartan’s bloodlines—1959 champion sprinter Intentionally—and planned the matings that made the careers of the farm’s foundation mares, Aspidistra and Cequillo.
Nerud also bred and raced in his own name, and the pedigree of 1990 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Unbridled—the last champion bred by Tartan—displays the depth of Nerud’s genius as he combined and recombined the building blocks that had made Tartan the premier breeding and racing operation in Florida.
Nerud began building Unbridled’s pedigree with Cequillo’s 1962 daughter Grand Splendor. Sired by 1954 Florida Derby winner Correlation, Grand Splendor won a division of the Pageant Handicap for Tartan before Nerud acquired her. For him, Grand Splendor bred Killaloe, a good allowance winner by Aspidistra’s son Dr. Fager.
Dr. Fager was quite a story in himself, and one in which Nerud’s fingers held the pen that wrote it. Nerud planned the mating that conceived the colt (sired by Ocala Stud’s foundation sire Rough’n Tumble), named him for the neurosurgeon who had saved his life, trained him to five championship titles including 1968 Horse of the Year, and managed his stud career when he retired to Tartan. His daughter Killaloe produced five stakes winners for Nerud including 1981 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) winner Fappiano (by Mr. Prospector), who made Nerud a wealthy man when the colt was syndicated for a reported $300,000 a share.
The other side of Unbridled’s pedigree begins with Aspidistra, who had produced a bang-up encore to Dr. Fager in two-time champion sprinter Ta Wee (by Intentionally). Aspidistra’s 1969 Buckpasser filly Magic never raced, but that didn’t faze Nerud at all. He mated Magic to Tartan-based In Reality (by Intentionally), whose owner/breeder Frances A. Genter was a good friend of Tartan owner William McKnight. The result was Charedi, an allowance-winning sprinter who produced a winner of similar class in Gana Facil (by Le Fabuleux).
Fappiano, then standing at Tartan, was a natural choice as Gana Facil’s first mate after having led the freshman and juvenile sire lists in 1985. Their union represented three generations of Nerud/Tartan breeding on the sire’s side and four generations on the dam’s, and the result was the most important horse Fappiano ever sired. Purchased for $70,000 by Genter from Tartan Farms’ 1987 dispersal, Unbridled became the champion 3-year-old male of 1990 before going on to a successful stud career and handing on the sire line to his sons Unbridled’s Song, Empire Maker, Grindstone, and Broken Vow.
All told, Nerud planned the matings that produced more than 100 stakes winners at Tartan, aside from the horses he bred in his own name. Perhaps the most intriguing on pedigree is 1990 NYRA Mile Handicap (gr. I) winner and successful sire Quiet American (Fappiano—Demure, by Dr. Fager), who is inbred 3x2 to Dr. Fager and 4x3 to Cequillo. Others include 1980 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Codex, a good sire who died young; 1978 co-champion sprinter Dr. Patches; Ta Wee’s son Great Above (by Tartan’s homebred stallion Minnesota Mac), who sired 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull and 38 other stakes winners; and Maudlin, whose 24 stakes winners include 1999 champion older female Beautiful Pleasure.
Although Nerud built his reputation at Tartan, his magic was not limited to Tartan bloodlines, for he bred 1985 champion turf male and important sire Cozzene (by Caro) and three other stakes winners from Ride the Trails, a mare he acquired from Joseph Roebling.
So even though Final Chapter isn’t a “typical” Nerud-bred—he’s by recently pensioned Thunder Gulch out of the Colonial Affair mare Comedy of Errors—he may yet prove a fitting epilogue to the story of one of the great figures of the American turf.