Some masterpieces are done in oil, others in clay. In the world of Thoroughbred racing and breeding, masterpieces are created in the minds of breeding experts. But calling John Nerud just a breeding expert is like saying Da Vinci was just an artist. In the true meaning of multi-talented genius, Nerud was a brilliant horseman, marketer, businessman, innovator, founding father of the Breeders’ Cup, mentor of Hall of Fame trainers, and architect of the Tartan Farm empire.
When we think of Nerud’s accomplishments as a trainer and/or breeder and owner, the names that come to mind are brother and sister Hall of Famers Dr. Fager and Ta Wee, champion Cozzene, and major stakes winner and top sire Fappiano.
But Nerud’s greatest accomplishment as a breeder was a horse that took him 10 years of meticulous planning to breed, and the result has been a horse that not only won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic, but is arguably the most influential sire of sires in the U.S. today. His name is Unbridled and this is how Nerud came to breed the son of Fappiano who is responsible for Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and current sensation Arrogate, as well as the country’s most dominant stallion Tapit.
In fact, Nerud’s influence can be found in both the male and female family of Arrogate, the sensational Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Pegasus World Cup winner who set off a frenzy of emotion and superlatives with his incredible victory in the Dubai World Cup.
It is interesting to note that not only is Arrogate a grandson of Unbridled, his sire, Unbridled’s Song, is inbred to Tartan foundation mare Aspidistra, the dam of Dr. Fager and Ta Wee, and Arrogate himself is inbred to In Reality, who was born and raised at Tartan Farm, stood at stud there, and is a son of Tartan foundation sire and Nerud’s first major purchase for Tartan, Intentionally.
Although In Reality was bred by Nerud’s longtime friend and associate, Mrs. Frances Genter, it was Nerud who convinced her to breed her mare My Dear Girl to Intentionally, and the result was In Reality. One of the most profound photos ever published was of a string of Tartan Farm yearlings walking in double file that appeared on the cover of The Blood-Horse, and the two youngsters leading the group were Dr. Fager and In Reality. The reason Nerud pushed Intentionally, a blazingly fast colt, so strongly was because he had purchased him privately as a racehorse after seeing him in the paddock for a then unheard of $750,000. He felt Intentionally had the speed and class to become a solid foundation sire for the new Tartan operation.
Intentionally along with Rough’n Tumble would help launch Tartan farm into a powerhouse in the still fledgling years of Florida breeding, especially with Rough’n Tumble siring the great Dr. Fager and Intentionally siring his half sister Ta Wee, both of whom would put Tartan on the map, winning a total of seven championships between them. Rough’n Tumble was a stallion no one wanted after losing part of his foot, but Nerud, in another stroke of genius, bought up every one of his shares he could get his hands on. From those shares, Nerud, in the first year, got Dr. Fager, stakes winner Minnesota Mac, sire of Great Above and champion Mac Diarmida, and Man o’War Stakes winner Ruffled Feathers.
In Reality, who had the misfortune of coming along in the same year as his buddy Dr. Fager and Damascus and was unable to beat either one, would become a dominant force in the breeding industry, his name appearing in the pedigree of six Kentucky Derby winners – Orb, Unbridled. Smarty Jones, Mine That Bird, Real Quiet, and Grindstone. Other descendents of In Reality include two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow; Preakness, Belmont, and Travers winner Point Given; Belmont and Travers winner Birdstone; Belmont winner Empire Maker; Breeders’ Cup Classic and Met Mile winner Ghostzapper; and Preakness winner Oxbow, just to name a few.
It is the inbreeding to In Reality that has helped form the foundation of Arrogate’s pedigree, through Unbridled on top and In Reality’s granddaughter, champion Meadow Star, on the bottom. Meadow Star provided brilliance, class, and courage, and she had the same low to the ground running style Arrogate has.
But it is Unbridled’s breeding, 10 years in the making, that shows the true genius of Nerud, culminating with one of the most remarkable horses seen in a long time.
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. Nerud always felt 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 estate on Long Island.
So, that’s how Nerud got Fappiano. 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. Nerud loved the fact that In Reality 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 now he had the speed he was looking for. 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 Nerud sold to longtime client and friend, Bentley Smith, representing Mrs. Genter, at the Tartan Farm dispersal as a weanling for $70,000. Nerud did not want to sell the colt, because he was the epitome of everything he knew and believed in as a breeder,
“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.”
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 were Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, who sired Pioneerof the Nile, who in turn sired American Pharoah; and Unbridled’s Song, who sired Arrogate.
To demonstrate Unbridled’s influence on the Classics, as mentioned, his son Empire Maker won the Belmont Stakes, 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 and Unbridled’s son Unbridled’s Song sired Arrogate. In addition, Grindstone sired Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, who in turn sired Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird. In contuining Nerud and Fappiano’s influence, Fappiano’s son Quiet American sired Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet.
Nerud’s influence on modern day racing goes even beyond that. His homebred champion Cozzene’s daughter, Lucky Soph, produced Lucky Pulpit, sire of Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Dubai World Cup winner and two-time Horse of the Year 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. And finally, Dr. Fager is the great-grandsire of Forestry, who is the broodmare sire of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. So John Nerud has had his influence stamped on six Kentucky Derby winners since 2005, including the last four – Orb, California Chrome, American Pharoah, and Nyquist. Not to mention the last two Breeders’ Cup Classic winners, American Pharoah and Arrogate, and the last two Dubai World Cup winners, California Chrome and Arrogate, who rank first and second among the all-time money winners in North America.
On top of all that, Unbridled also is the broodmare sire of Tapit, the most dominating sire in the country, on the racetrack and at the sales, whose influence on the breed is too extensive to get into here. And Tapit’s dam, like Arrogate, is inbred to In Reality, so you have the same Unbridled – In Reality inbreeding connection you have with Arrogate.
Moving into this past weekend’s 3-year-old action, Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming is by Unbridled’s grandson Bodemeister, a son of Empire Maker; third-place finisher Gunnevera’s broodmare sire is Unbridled; and Louisiana Derby runner-up Patch’s maternal great-grandsire is Unbridled. In the weeks to come, we have Tapwrit, Classic Empire, and Battalion Runner, all of whom have Unbridled in their pedigree, with Battalion Runner being by Arrogate’s sire Unbridled’s Song and Classic Empire being by Empire Maker's son Pioneerof the Nile, who like Arrogate, is inbred to In Reality.
John Nerud passed away in 2015 at age 102. But he is still with us in many ways.