John Nerud on the Breeders Cup, 2008

Dec 27th 2008 02:00 pm |

On December 16th and 17th, legendary trainer John Nerud spoke with Steve Byk on Byk’s outstanding radio show. Over the course of his conversation, Nerud, at age 95, provided some profound insights into the current state of the game. Nerud, the Hall of Fame trainer of Dr. Fager, is the sage of American racing. His lifetime in racing as a trainer, breeder, owner, and one of the founders of the Breeder’s Cup makes him a goldmine of wisdom.

Image: John Nerud and Dr. Fager in an advertisement from the Thoroughbred Record, January 13, 1968

Nerud’s ideas about the Breeders Cup are especially insightful. Nerud worked closely with Breeders Cup founder John Gaines to develop and sell Gaines’s idea and then served as the chairman of the BC marketing committee for the first 10 years of its existence. Nerud understands the original intent of the Breeders Cup because he was there at the beginning.

I transcribed portions of Nerud’s interview with Steve Byk below.

On the founding of the Breeders Cup, Nerud said:

“As you know John Gaines dreamed this up…When this was born he and I both agreed that the Breeders Cup is only a marketing tool for racing – nothing else. You have one big day to draw attention to racing and its a marketing tool…Without racing breeders don’t have a place to sell their horses but I don’t think the breeders have ever realized that. Anyhow, we wanted to spend everything on one day…. I think they have lost their way with the Breeders Cup. The Breeders Cup is only an event. It wasn’t put together to bring a lot of money back to the breeders. They were expected to fund it so they would have a market to sell their horses but the people in Kentucky think it belongs to the breeders and they should make a profit off it, which is wrong…”

When asked about the expansion to two days and the addition of races like the Marathon and Turf Sprint, Nerud replied, simply, “Who is the Worlds Champion Boxer? Who knows anymore. Why? Because they diluted it.” A perfect analogy, in my opinion, as boxing and horse racing had an equally high level of popularity in the 1950s. Both made disastrously poor decisions since then that have pushed them to the fringes just 50 years later

On the current leadership at the BC:

“I haven’t been to meetings and I don’t know what their ideas are but we have never had a CEO in charge of the Breeder’s Cup that is independent. Every CEO we have ever had running the Breeders Cup has been an inside man. If the Breeders Cup is to be run right they have to get an outside person with the ability and the education – I don’t care if he has never seen a horse – he has to be a strong executive and not part of the good old boys club. That is what is wrong with the Breeders Cup, it is run as a good old boys club. Until we get rid of that attitude, its not going to work…I don’t think we will ever get it straightened out. The Kentucky breeders are a very close knit group. They are the center of the breeding world and they know it. It is very difficult for an outsider to get in and make a very big splash. I did. I was on 5 committees and chairman of the marketing committee for 10 years. I had a pretty strong voice but they got rid of me…”

In addition to specific discussion about the Breeders Cup, he also had some general thoughts on the state of the game.

In talking about the true stakeholders in the game:

“The jockeys and the trainers and everybody are takers. The only two people that put up the money are the owners and the customers who come to the races. The rest of them are takers…”

And, finally, on the opportunity for racing considering the current financial situation:

“Well, you see it right now. The handle has not fallen off a great deal at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Hollywood…The racetrack is the last place for the depression to hit. When I was racing in the 30s – when we came into town we were popular with the girls because we were the only ones that had any money. We haven’t priced ourselves out of the market — I think the Breeders Cup and the (Kentucky) Derby are foolish but I am whistling in the dark. They are overpricing it to the point where it will get to them — You can come to the races, you can look at the trainer and holler at ’em, you can talk to the jockey who might even sign your program. You go to a baseball or football game and try to talk to the manager and you might wind up in jail. So its a nice afternoon. You go to Aqueduct this winter and go into that grandstand it is amazing how beautiful and well kept it is…it is a great place to spend an afternoon.”

I encourage everyone to listen to the interview in its entirety. Nerud had much more to say on the Breeders Cup and other racing issues. It can be found below as streaming audio or you can subscribe to the podcast:

Streaming audio:
Decemer 16 (Begins about 8 minutes into the first hour)
December 17 (Begins about 31 minutes into first hour and continues into the second hour)

Subscribe to the At the Races podcast

Seth Merrow clipped a portion of an interview with Steve Haskin relaying a great story about a recent yearling purchase made by John Nerud. Listen here…

A quick word on At the Races with Steve Byk: If you are a fan of thoroughbred racing, I guarantee you will love this radio show. For all the marketers, journalists, bloggers, and track executives trying to figure out how to sell the game – listen to the show to see how it is done. Byk covers all angles of the game and does it brilliantly. With regular guests like Steve Haskin, Rich Eng, Jon White, Seth Merrow, Lauren Stitch and a steady stream of jockeys, trainers, owners, and industry heavy hitters, it is the best show (TV or radio) dedicated to the sport of thoroughbred racing. It is broadcast on Sirius satellite Monday to Friday at 4pm EST on channel 126. If you don’t have Sirius it is streamed online and available via podcast (I listen to the podcast which is usually available for download the following day and sometimes earlier).

I have been enjoying the end of the year coverage from everyone. The book lists by Maryjean Wall and Larry Lee Palmer had me adding a few more books to my ever-expanding reading list. The series at Mary Forney’s blog by historian Leonard Wynne on racing in southern California has been very enjoyable. Seth Merrow from Equidaily did an interesting look back at a 1987 issue of the Daily Racing Form. Teresa at the Brooklyn Backstretch put together a nice piece on Henry of Navarre and Domino at the Gravesend racetrack. Dana at Green But Game has posted part one of her look back at racing in 1994. The lack of racing during this time of year makes for some fascinating reading by all of the dedicated writers covering the sport.

Be sure to check out the new look at the Throughbred Bloggers Alliance site — with news feeds, free past performances, and other fun stuff.

The updated Colin’s Ghost site is still a work in progress. I was hoping to have it done before 2009 but it appears to be a long term project. Hope you like the new look.

This is the last post for 2008. Hope everyone has a happy, healthy, and safe New Year. Looking forward to 2009!

Thanks for Reading and Good Luck!

Filed in Breeders Cup,Nerud, John

7 Responses to “John Nerud on the Breeders Cup, 2008”

  1. SaratogaSpa says:

    I have Sirius Radio and listened to the interview live. Thanks for pointing readers to Steve Byk’s show. I think he does a great job of keeping both the horseplayer and the fan interested in the game.

  2. dana says:

    Thanks so much for transcribing these parts, fantastic interview!!

    Byk does a great job, thanks for the reminder!

  3. Power Cap says:

    Thanks for posting this, a very interesting interview.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Derby Derek : Steve Byk and his show AT THE RACES is really the only place where the fans voice can be heard and can ask the tough questions and actually get a response from guests on the show. If you love thorobred racing this is the place to go and Steve is one hell of handicapper, he will definely improve your game and knowledge.

  5. Mary Forney's Blog says:

    I love your new look! You do such a great job with your blog… it’s one of my favorites. Thanks for the great post about Nerud, and for the tip on the podcasts for Steve Byk’s show. I have added it to my bookmarks. Thanks also for your nice comment about the historical series on my blog. Have a wonderful new year!! Mary.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you! I have been asking for a racing radio show to be widely promoted for those of us without horse racing TV. I understand your and Mr. Nerud’s point about the extra Breeder’s Cup day “diluting” the racing experience. And I do admit to personally liking the extra day, which for all of my life I will remember as being crowned by Queen Zenyatta. If changes are to be made, I would hope that it would reflect upon building up the Triple Tiara series at least. Fillies who are not mass producers sent to the breeding shed can stay in the game longer and keep more fans following their ongoing stories, thus keeping fans attention longer. Maybe this super Breeder’s Cup day for mares could come at a different time, and work with the Triple Tiara races to build more interest in the ladies of racing. We can always dream? Loved the picture of Dr. Fager advertising his Jockey Oats!

  7. Adrienne says:

    Go Mr. Nerud and Green Bananas!!!