In a wide-ranging keynote address that covered everything from his family's connection to Thoroughbred racing to modern journalism practices, Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes" and a Thoroughbred owner, told approximately 235 attendees at the fourth Thoroughbred Owner Conference Oct. 29 how his experiences at the racetrack had such an important influence on his life and career.
The Thoroughbred Owner Conference, co-hosted by OwnerView and BloodHorse, is being held at the Del Mar Hilton the week leading up to the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Fager started his remarks by telling the audience about owner and trainer John Nerud naming a horse after his father, a neurosurgeon named Dr. Charles Fager, who saved Nerud's life in 1965. Nerud had fallen off a horse and suffered a subdural hematoma that was the biggest his father had ever seen, according to Fager.
"John stopped my father in the hallway of the hospital (after the surgery) and said, 'Sign this. I want to name a horse after you."
The horse, Dr. Fager, became the only horse to ever win four different championship awards in the same year, earning Horse of the Year, champion older horse, champion turf horse, and champion sprinter in 1968.
The Nerud and Fager families became friends, and Jeff spent two summers during high school living on the backstretch while working for Nerud.
"It was a wonderful experience," Fager said. "That's a great thing about horse racing. You meet people from all walks of life. John Nerud treated me like another one of his sons and taught me to challenge conventional wisdom."
Fager, who now has six horses in training in a "small but hopeful" stable, said he gets nervous every time one of them runs.
"I didn't think I could ever be more nervous than I was when my son was a relief pitcher on his high school baseball team, but I love being part of this sport," he said.
In other segments of his address and an extended question-and-answer period that followed it, Fager also touched on a variety of subjects.
Unlike other network shows, "60 Minutes" does not conduct audience research to see what studies their viewers want to see.
"Our job is to choose topics and cover what's important. Our recent report on the opioid crisis was a good example of that," he said.
He said that the show "has earned a lot of trust through the years" and "sells credibility" and that it presents fair and accurate reporting, as opposed to unedited content that can be found on social media outlets.
When asked about what Thoroughbred racing could do to be more popular, he admitted, "It is a challenge to bring back some of the glow that existed when Dr. Fager was running, but integrity is a big part of attaining a bigger national appeal."
"60 Minutes" has done several stories on Travis Tygart and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and Fager said that getting the USADA involved with the medication issue in Thoroughbred racing would be "a dramatic development."
The Thoroughbred Owner Conference is designed to educate, inform, and entertain new, prospective, and current Thoroughbred owners through a series of panels and social events.