Greatest Horseman of Our Time – With a Story From Tony Walsh

Just a brief racing interjection – RIP John Nerud of Tartan Farm – 102 years young

Trainer of Dr. Fager, Tawee, Gallant Man

Owner – Breeder of Cozzene, Fappiano

If you disagree – prove me wrong.

Chef Soper, chefsoper@starpower.net

I want to add a postscript/personal remembrance from Tony Walsh, who agreed with my assessment of John Nerud.

In the early 1970’s Tony was recently out of the Army and home in Albany awaiting the start of a fall construction job. He was able to get an August job at the track as a Pinkerton Security guard and  was stuck with the late shift from 11:00 PM – 7:00 AM. Overnight, the guards were mostly deployed on the backstretch and watched the barns, especially since Secretariat was stabled there that summer. When the Oklahoma Training Track opened early in the morning, the guards would help direct traffic at the track entrance, making sure the horses made it safely from their stables.

One morning Tony was on duty at the track entrance when Mr. Nerud was bringing in his small string of ponies on the back of his lead horse. Tony was pretty young and full of himself at that point in life –  well before he picked up all his social skills from the bar business. But he had a chance to interact with many of the early morning workers, from trainers to jockeys and their agents. He had settled in to the routine and totally loved the track atmosphere. He had befriended a large, hands-on horseman from South Carolina, who worked several jumpers for races at Saratoga. He had a giant station wagon which the guards used for an occasional late night nap – it was probably the only type of car that could hold the trainer’s immense frame. The jumpers were the primary workers on the training track although a few flat runners also used it.

As I said, Mr. Nerud was leading a small group of flat runners for a work – it was quiet and Tony was stationed at the entrance. The trainer shouted down to him to move away from the entrance. Tony had been in this spot for several weeks and felt confident in his ability to keep this area safe. He waved the trainer to go through, but Mr. Nerud  again yelled at him to move away. Tony said “Don’t worry, I’m Ok.” Mr. Nerud sternly replied “I’m not worried about you – just my horses.” At this point, before Tony started to ask this horseman who he thought he was, he felt the meat hook of a hand belonging to the South Carolina trainer, Archie Kingsley, attached to his shoulder. Archie told him to shut up and move away – “We like you Tony, but don’t mess with Mr. Nerud – you’re lucky he hasn’t had you removed from the grounds already this morning.”

It was a good learning experience for Tony early in his working career – you have to know who is really in charge. John Nerud was all about the horses and was able to maintain that philosophy and focus for decades. He learned early in his career from the great Calumet Farms trainer, Ben Jones:”Keep ’em happy, keep ’em fat, feed ’em good, and work ’em a half mile and they’ll win in spite of you.” He may have even been a better breeder and you can trace Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to his sire Fappiano, who’s dam Killaloe was a daughter of his immortal Dr. Fager.

Read Jay Hovdey’s articles from the DRF archives on Mr. Nerud – you will not argue with my opinion of Mr. Nerud – just as Tony learned not to argue with him.