How do you choose the crowning legacy of a person’s career, especially when that person is John Nerud, who had so many careers and has left so many legacies it’s difficult to single one out?
As a breeder, you can certainly include Dr. Fager, Ta Wee, Unbridled, and Fappiano and Cozzene (both also owned by Nerud) among Nerud’s greatest legacies. It has already been reported that Nerud was influential in the pedigree of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah having bred the colt’s great-grandsire Unbridled and great-great-grandsire Fappiano on the sire’s side and Minnetonka, dam of maternal great-grandsire Ecliptical.
Each year, it seems there are more and more top-class stakes horses with Nerud’s influence. Just last weekend, one of the country’s most popular young horses, Rachel’s Valentina, a daughter of Bernardini out of Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, captured the grade I Spinaway Stakes. Rachel’s Valentina traces to Fappiano and Dr. Fager on top and Dr. Fager on the bottom.
But if Nerud, who passed away last month at age 102, has stamped his genius on any horse by sheer volume it has to be Woodward Stakes winner Liam’s Map, who has developed into one of the most exciting horses in the country, winning the Woodward by nearly five lengths in a brilliant 1:47 2/5 for the 1 1/8 miles, four-fifths off the Saratoga track record.
A look at Liam’s Map’s pedigree reveals something truly remarkable.
A total of 14 horses in Liam's Map's pedigree were bred by Nerud (eight on the sire’s side and six on the dam’s side). They are Unbridled, Fappiano, Gana Facil, Killaloe, Charedi, Dr. Fager, Ta Wee (twice), Magic, Great Above, Stem, Tweak, Minnesota Mac, and Grand Splendor. With Dr. Fager, Magic, and inbreeding to Ta Wee (Rasmussen Factor), that is four presences of Aspidistra (dam of all three horses).
And Liam's Map is also inbred to In Reality, who was born and raised at Tartan Farm in the same crop as Dr. Fager and Minnesota Mac, and Nerud had a huge influence on him as well, eventually standing him at Tartan Farm. In Reality’s sire, Intentionally, who also sired Ta Wee, was purchased privately by Nerud as a racehorse for the lofty sum of $750,000 (a fortune in 1960) to spearhead the then fledgling Tartan Farm stallion operation.
Nerud formed a syndicate with Tartan maintaining controlling interest. Nerud had never spent more than $20,000 for any horse for Tartan owner William McKnight. So when he called him and told him he had just spent $750,000 and informed him where to transfer the money, and all McKnight said was ‘Okay,’ Nerud knew then he had total control of Tartan Farm and a free rein to build it up in whatever manner he chose. It was Nerud who convinced Frances Genter and her advisor Bentley Smith to breed In Reality's dam, My Dear Girl, to Intentionally.
Among the stallions Nerud bred to to get Stem and Magic were Dr. Fager’s arch rival Damascus and Horse of the Year Buckpasser, respectively. It was the showdown among Dr. Fager, Damascus, and Buckpasser in the 1967 Woodward Stakes that was considered by many to be the race of century, pitting three Horses of the Year and future Hall of Famers.
The sire line that Nerud created through Fappiano and his son Unbridled is one of the most successful of all time, and it was that sire line that has resulted in both American Pharoah and Liam’s Map – American Pharoah through Unbridled’s son Empire Maker and Empire Maker’s son Pioneeof the Nile and Liam’s Map through Unbridled’s son Unbridled’s Song.
To demonstrate this line’s dominance in the Classics, Unbridled’s son Empire Maker won the Belmont Stakes; Fappiano’s son Quiet American sired Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet; Unbridled’s son Grindstone won the Kentucky Derby; and Unbridled’s daughter Lady Liberty produced Kentucky Derby winner Orb. And, as mentioned earlier, Empire Maker’s son Pioneerof the Nile sired Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. In addition, Grindstone sired Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, who in turn sired Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird.
Also, Cozzene’s daughter, Lucky Soph, produced Lucky Pulpit, sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome. The Nerud-bred Great Above, a son of Ta Wee, sired Horse of the Year Holy Bull, the sire of Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo. So John Nerud has had his influence stamped on five Kentucky Derby winners since 2005, including the last three.
It’s too bad that Nerud couldn’t have lived to see Liam’s Map win the Woodward, earning him a possible berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (or Dirt Mile), where he could face American Pharoah. Also pointing for the Classic is last year’s Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Tonalist, whose sire, Tapit, the hottest stallion in America, is a grandson of Unbridled.
If Nerud were still alive, he would have gone over the 14 horses in Liam’s Map’s pedigree that he bred and told you a something about each one of them and how he came to breed them.
It is his incredible mind, which was still fertile at 102, that will be missed the most. I think of all the stories he’s told and all those still waiting to be told. But what is reassuring is the thought of all the champions still to come to constantly remind us of the genius that was John Nerud.
Photos by Steve Haskin
The gray head of of Liam's Map surges out of the gate from post 2 in the Woodward
Liam's Map is all alone with all four legs off the ground