John Nerud

John Nerud

Steve Haskin

John Nerud Buys Age 98

Racing legend has invested in the future, buying a Bernstein colt at Keeneland

John Nerud has built a breeding empire, one of the sport’s most successful stables, the marketing arm of the Breeders’ Cup, and mentored classic-winning trainers such as D. Wayne Lukas, Scotty Schulhofer, and Carl Nafzger, among his many other accomplishments.

The native Nebraskan has done it with savvy, brains, tenacity, and a gift for seeing into the future. Nerud has always spoken from the gut, whether it is to grooms and hotwalkers or the nation’s most powerful tycoons. He didn’t care who you were. He looked you in the eye and said what he felt, without any thought of repercussions.

Nerud, who is just months shy of his 99th birthday and as sharp and feisty as ever, still is looking to the future, purchasing part-interest in a yearling colt by Bernstein at the recent Keeneland September sale.


“Racing is all about dreams, and you always have to keep dreaming,” Nerud said. “At my age you have to have something to look forward to. I’m four months from my 99th birthday and I don’t walk too good, so what other recreation do I have other than playing gin? My mind is still good, so I figured I’d stay in the game and fool around a little. I even have a broodmare in foal up at Sugar Maple Farm (in upstate New York). You can’t worry about when you’re going to die. It’s going to go come, so you just go ahead and live for today and think about tomorrow and not worry about the day after tomorrow.”


Nerud was playing gin one day recently with friends John Confort and Al Weiss when he received a call from Frank O’Connor at the Keeneland sale telling him there was a yearling scheduled to sell that looks like his (Nerud’s) kind of horse.


“I told him it sounds good, just send me his pedigree,” Nerud said. “That’s when John and Al said they wanted in. I liked the sire and the mare (Pocus Hocus) was a graded stakes winner and grade I-placed, by Quiet American, who is inbred (2x3) to Dr. Fager. I called John and Al and told them, ‘OK, you’re in.’


“I told Frank to vet the colt; just his wind, and his hocks and stifles. He called back and said they were all good. We figured the colt would go for between $40,000 and $50,000. Frank called me when he was in the ring. He went to $40,000 and there were no other bids.”


So, Nerud once again had invested in the future, which he’s been doing for the past eight decades.


“How awesome is that?” said Walt Robertson, vice president of sales at Keeneland. “John Nerud has been my hero forever. I remember Fred Hooper buying some broodmares in his early 90s, but I can’t recall anyone buying horses at this age.”


Nerud plans on going up to Sugar Maple Oct. 1 with Confort, and possibly Weiss, to see the colt.


Said Nerud, “John (Confort) is only 85, so he’ll do the driving.”