Haskin's Derby Trail: A Legacy to John Nerud

If you’ve been following this year’s Kentucky Derby trail, you no doubt will recognize the names Verrazano, Orb, Flashback, Will Take Charge, Govenor Charlie, Lines of Battle, Normandy Invasion, Mr. Palmer, Super Ninety Nine, He’s Had Enough, Shakin It Up, Capo Bastone, and My Lute.

What they have in common is they all carry the John Nerud influence in their pedigree, mainly through the descendents of Fappiano and Dr. Fager and continuing through Unbridled and Quiet American. It is the last two on which we will concentrate, as they both reflect the true genius of Nerud, who celebrated his 100th birthday this year. What is ironic is that Nerud never believed in the Derby and ran only one horse in the race – Gallant Man in 1957.

One of only two horses to win the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year, Unbridled is s product of Nerud’s amazing insight and foresight and grasp of all aspects of the racing and breeding industry. It is safe to say Unbridled is one of the most brilliantly conceived Thoroughbreds of modern times.

There would be nothing more appropriate than to have Nerud play an integral part in the breeding of a Kentucky Derby winner the same year as his 100th birthday. What a great tribute that would to a living legend. And if that should be Orb, it would fitting for Nerud to be part of Shug McGaughey’s and the Janney and Phipps families’ first Derby winner, for there is no one who respects tradition and old school breeding and training more than Nerud.

Unbridled’s story began when Nerud, while in the process of building the Tartan Farm empire, purchased the filly Cequillo, who became one of two Tartan foundation mares, along with Aspidistra. Cequillo produced Man o’War Stakes winner Ruffled Feathers; stakes winners Hot Dust (winner of the Hialeah Turf Cup and second in the Travers and Widener) and Tequillo; Quiet Charm, who produced Demure, the dam of top-class racehorse and sire Quiet American; and Grand Splendor, who produced Gonfalon, the dam of the brilliant Ogygian. Grand Splendor also is the third dam of Met Mile winner Honour and Glory.

But Nerud’s major coup came when he bred Grand Splendor to Dr. Fager and got Killaloe, who produced Jedina, the dam of Clabber Girl, who won or placed in 15 stakes, nine of them grade Is, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Ruffian, Top Flight, and Santa Margarita. Jedina also produced Fineza, the dam of Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill.

Killaloe’s crowning achievement, however, was her Mr. Prospector colt Fappiano, who won the Met Mile and Forego Handicaps in Nerud’s colors, and became one of the most influential sires of the last 30 years, despite dying at age 13 of laminitis. Who knows the extent of his influence on the breed had he lived a full life.

Nerud had been looking for the right stallion to breed Killaloe to and took a liking to a young Florida stallion owned by Butch Savin named Mr. Prospector, who was standing for $7,500.

Nerud liked the fact that Mr. Prospector was extremely fast, blazing six furlongs in a track-record 1:07 4/5 at Gulfstream, and had withstood Jimmy Croll’s hard training. He decided he was the perfect match for Killaloe, but she had a late foal that year and it was already June. Savin did not want Mr. Prospector having any May foals and turned Nerud down. But in typical Nerud fashion, he told Savin, “Butch, you’re so rich you don’t want to take my money? Look out the window and tell me what the hell Mr. Prospector is doing now.” Savin told him, ‘Nothing,’ to which Nerud replied, “Well, neither is my mare. Let me worry about having a May foal.” Savin finally agreed, and Nerud bred Killaloe to Mr. Prospector.

The resulting foal was Fappiano. To this day, Nerud feels he made a mistake by not buying half-interest in Mr. Prospector and keeping him in Florida.

Nerud stood Fappiano at Tartan Farm until 1987, syndicating him for $300,000 a share. Fappiano made Nerud millions and enabled him to buy his current estate on Long Island.

Now, let’s go back to 1969. Nerud had bred Aspidistra (dam of Hall of Famers Dr. Fager and Ta Wee) to Buckpasser, giving him inbreeding to two of his favorite lines, Man o’War through War Admiral and La Troienne, perhaps the greatest Blue Hen producer of the century and one of the main founders of the Phipps dynasty.

The resulting foal was named Magic, who Nerud bred to In Reality, a colt by his stallion Intentionally. Nerud raised In Reality at Tartan in the same fields with Dr. Fager and always admired the tough, pocket-sized colt as a racehorse and sire. He also loved the fact that In Reality, who was owned by his longtime client Mrs. Frances Genter, was inbred to Man o’War’s son War Relic, and by breeding him to Magic, he was able to get four crosses of Man o’ War, as well as three crosses of Bull Dog, a son of Teddy, whose line was another of Nerud’s favorites. Bull Dog also sired Bull Lea, who almost single-handedly founded the Calumet Farm dynasty. And it was Calumet trainer Ben Jones who was one of Nerud’s mentors. So, Nerud had bred his perfect horse, infused with the blood of his favorite pedigree lines.

The In Reality – Magic foal was named Charedi, who wasn’t a top-class racehorse, but did have plenty of speed. So when it was time to breed Charedi, Nerud sought out the most stamina-oriented stallion he could find, and that was the great French-bred sire Le Fabuleux. The resulting foal was named Gana Facil, who raced in a couple of stakes at Calder for Frank Gomez, ending her career racing mostly at around a mile and 1 1/16 miles. Because she didn’t have much speed and was by a staying sire, but was from royal blood, Nerud bred her to the best, and that was Fappiano, who could sire top horses at any distance, especially those will brilliance.

The speed in Gana Facil’s pedigree through Charedi and Aspidistra and the stamina of Le Fabuleux and Buckpasser combined perfectly with Fappiano’s blend of speed and stamina and the inbreeding to Aspidistra to produce Unbridled, who was sold to Nerud’s  longtime client and friend, Bentley Smith, representing Mrs. Genter, at the Tartan Farm dispersal as a weanling for $70,000.

Nerud had created the perfect storm of breeding, with everything he planned moving forward with each generation and ultimately producing Unbridled, who would continue the Nerud influence by becoming one of the great sires of his time. Among his sons was Unbridled’s Song, who has been one of the most dominant sires of the last 15 years.

“It took me 10 years to get Unbridled, and I should have kept him,” Nerud said. “But I had given my word I was going to sell all the babies and all the horses in training, and I had to keep my word.”

Unbridled not only won the Kentucky Derby, he also sired Derby winner Grindstone and Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker.

Unbridled was bred to Mesabi Maiden, a Janney III and Phipps bred-mare, whose granddam, Laughter, was a half-sister to the great Ruffian, and the resulting foal was Lady Liberty, the dam of Orb.

Unbridled also is the broodmare sire of Tapit, the sire of leading 3-year-olds Flashback and Normandy Invasion, as well as last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up He’s Had Enough, who is off to Dubai for the UAE Derby.

Unbridled’s Song, in addition to siring Will Take Charge, is the broodmare sire of Southwest Stakes winner Super Ninety Nine.

Nerud’s influence on this year’s Derby trail also can be felt through Quiet American, with whom Nerud rewrote the book on inbreeding.

We already know the story about his sire Fappiano, but for the dam’s story, we once again go back to Cequillo. In 1970, Nerud bred Cequillo to Northern Dancer’s sire Nearctic and got Quiet Charm, who won only one of six starts before being retired to Tartan. Nerud bred Quiet Charm to Dr. Fager and she produced a filly named Demure, who was even worse than her dam, winning only two of 20 starts.

Nerud decided to infuse the blood of Dr. Fager extremely close up by breeding Demure to Fappiano. That meant the resulting foal was inbred 2x3 to Dr. Fager. Like Unbridled, the colt was consigned to the Tartan dispersal, held by Fasig-Tipton Kentucky, and brought $300,000 by Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum, who named the colt Quiet American. He would go on to win the NYRA Mile and other stakes before being retired to the Sheikh’s Gainsborough Farm, where he would stand until 2006 before being moved to Jonabell Farm when Darley took over the farm and began building a major stallion operation.

Quiet American made a huge impact on the classics and the sport in general, siring Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, who came within a nose of sweeping the Triple Crown in 1998. Quiet American also is the broodmare sire of 3-year-old champion Bernardini, winner of the Preakness, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Saint Liam, Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner in 2005.

Quiet American’s influence also is being felt through Real Quiet’s son Midnight Lute, a two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner who has made an immediate impact on the Derby and Oaks trail with promising 3-year-olds Govenor Charlie, Shakin It Up, Mylute, Where’s Dominic, and the brilliant filly Midnight Lucky. This past weekend, Govenor Charlie and Midnight Lucky not only romped in the Sunland Derby and Sunland Oaks, respectively, they both broke the track record.

Quiet American, who was retired from stud duty this year at age 27, also is the broodmare sire of Private Terms Stakes winner Mr. Palmer, who runs next in the Wood Memorial, and the promising Abstraction, who recently romped by 9 ¾ lengths in a maiden race at Fair Grounds. And you can also find Nerud’s influence in the pedigree of Rebel Stakes winner Will Take Charge, who is inbred 3x4 to Fappiano. And if you go back in Verrazano’s tail-female family you will find fourth dam Remedia, who is a daughter of Dr. Fager.

Also, the multiple grade I-placed Capo Bastone is by Street Boss, who is out of an Ogygian mare.

Whatever happens over the course of the 2013 Derby trail, John Nerud’s impact on this year’s 3-year-old crop already has served as a fitting legacy to one of the true geniuses the sport has ever known.  

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