(Edited press release)
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association announced Jan. 11 that John Nerud, one of America's most successful and influential Thoroughbred horsemen, will be honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in Thoroughbred racing.
Nerud will receive the award, which is presented by the National Turf Writers Association, Daily Racing Form, and the NTRA, Jan. 22 at the Eclipse Awards ceremony and dinner at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"It's my first one, and it's a great honor," said the 93-year-old Nerud on receiving the award of merit. "I have had many great moments in my career; from winning the Belmont Stakes to getting the Breeders' Cup started. I am also very proud of establishing insurance coverage for backstretch workers and exercise riders in 1957 with Jim Fitzsimmons and John Haines."
Nerud excelled at a number of positions within Thoroughbred racing: trainer, owner, breeder, jockey's agent, and executive. Born in 1913 in Nebraska, he received his trainer's license at 18, and trained racehorses from 1931-1978, including 27 stakes winners and five champions. Nerud's most acclaimed runner was Dr. Fager, the 1968 Horse of the Year. Dr. Fager is the only Thoroughbred to win four championships in one year: Sprinter, Turf Horse, Handicap Horse and Horse of the Year.
"He was one of the greatest horses that ever lived," said Nerud. "He accomplished more things than any horse ever had."
Nerud also trained Gallant Man, the 1957 Belmont Stakes winner, and champions Delegate (1949 Sprinter); Intentionally (1959 Sprinter) Ta Wee (1969, 1970 Sprinter), and Dr. Patches (1978 co-Sprinter).
For 30 years, Nerud worked for William McKnight's Tartan Farms in Ocala, Fla., where he was trainer, president, and general manager. Nerud turned Tartan into one of the nation's top racing and breeding operations. Besides developing an excellent broodmare band, Tartan stood Dr. Fager, Intentionally, In Reality, and later, Hold Your Peace, Codex, and Smile. When Nerud retired from training in 1978, he remained at Tartan as manager of racing and breeding. Nerud was inducted into Racing's Hall of Fame in 1972.
During the 1980's, Nerud was a prime force in the early development of the Breeders' Cup World Championships, helping Breeders' Cup founder John Gaines to sell the concept to horsemen across the nation. Nerud also served as chairman of the program's marketing committee in its formative years. In 1985, Nerud won the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I) with his homebred Cozzene, who was trained by his son, Jan. Cozzene was named champion Male Turf Horse of 1985. Nerud also bred and owned Fappiano, sire of the champion and top stallion Unbridled.
"John Nerud was one of the Breeders' Cup's most important leaders during the difficult early years," said D.G. Van Clief, Jr., chairman emeritus of Breeders' Cup. “He was an outspoken supporter of the concept, and he kept all of our feet to the fire when it came time to make the difficult decisions. His colleagues on the board thought of him as 'the heart and soul of the Breeders' Cup.' John deserves much of the credit for getting the program off the ground. That, combined with his leadership contributions to the sport as a trainer, breeder, owner, and a mentor to countless aspiring horsemen, makes him a richly deserving recipient of this important honor."