Film to honor Nebraska Thoroughbred legends
Nebraska’s Legacy of the Plains Museum threw a party February 9.
John Nerud, who trained Dr. Fager, the only horse to ever hold four American titles in one year will be commemorated in a documentary soon. The gathering celebrated Nerud’s life and his influence on the Thoroughbred racing industry.
As a 4-year-old in 1968, Dr. Fager was named Horse of the Year, champion handicap horse, champion sprinter, and co-champion grass horse. In his most famous performance, Dr. Fager set a world record of 1:322⁄5 for a mile in the Washington Park Handicap, while carrying 134 pounds. The excitement of all those amazing wins agreed with John Nerud — he lived to be 102!
Two enthusiastic and talented ladies – Jody L. Lamp from the Platte River valley and Melody Dobson from Billings, Montana – are completing final edits in their production of BORN TO REIN, a film that highlights Nebraska’s rich horse racing history and much of Nerud’s stellar career. The film’s timely 2019 release commemorates the 100th Anniversary of America’s First Triple Crown Winner; along with paying homage to famous Thoroughbred sire Sir Barton and his time as a U.S. Army Remount Service Stallion at Fort Robinson near Crawford, Nebraska.
The film also tips a hat to other Nebraska “great’s” on the turf – the Van Berg family.
Marion VanBerg trained some 4,691 horses that won nearly 1,500 races. He was the first inductee into the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame, and in 1970 he became the first Nebraskan to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. His repetitive “Leading Owner” honors (14 times!) helped put him there; and his son Jack Van Berg carried the family banner to yet more winning honors as a trainer. Alysheba was Jack’s best in that field, winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1987 and Horse of the Year designation in 1988.
Jody Lamp proudly notes that she attended and graduated from John Nerud’s alma mater, Minatare High School. He graduated in 1931, she in 1987. She’s also quick to tell anyone who will listen that “horse racing is America’s oldest sport, dating back to the 1700s.” In fact she and Melody were privileged to visit Queens, NY, where the first horse racing track was built in “North America, possession of Britain” in 1667. There they met with Richard Hourahan, Curator of the Queens Historical Society to discuss “the sport of kings, in Queens.” After an educational and pleasant visit Jody mentioned she was from the home of John Nerud. Having learned he and Richard lived in close proximity, they asked if Richard had ever visited him.
It was quite a thrill for them to hear Hourahan respond, “John Nerud? HE’S A ROCK STAR!”
Evidence of that same ‘Nerud factor’ showed up in Louisville, where they attended the 2018 Kentucky Derby. “We had no appointments or interviews arranged to talk to anyone,” Jody says, but during Derby week they ventured down among the dignitaries. Catching a free moment with Bob Baffert she quickly informed him of the documentary film and who it profiled.
Besieged on every side by someone wanting to talk with him, Baffert at first asked if they would come back the next day, to which she graciously acceded. Someone else took his ear, but in just moments he turned and came back to them saying, “Can you just give me a few minutes? I’ll be right back!”
Of course they could – and Baffert soon returned to them to visit about his many cherished memories of John Nerud. “He spoke of John’s myriad contributions to the world of Thoroughbred racing, even more than all his accomplishments,” Jody says.
D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of 24 Eclipse Award-winning horses, who has won more Triple Crown races than any other trainer, also agreed to be interviewed about the intrepid John Nerud. Lukas has won Breeder’s Cup races a record 20 times, so he has ample cause to be grateful and honor Nerud, co-founder of the event.
Lamp and Dobson are leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of excellence in production and promotion for BORN TO REIN. They say, “We were encouraged to apply for LB 840 economic development funds from the cities of Scottsbluff, Gering, Mitchell, Bayard and Ashland, Nebraska, because all have untold and forgotten stories about their horse racing heritage, which will be shared and spotlighted in BORN TO REIN. In addition, our film crew came to the area to film in each city, and by iconic landmarks like Chimney Rock.”
Members of the Gering City Council contributed $12,500 of support from the city’s LB 840 fund for economic development. Part of that funding made the Legacy of the Plains Museum static display possible, and will also help advertise BORN TO REIN.
The Scottsbluff Star Herald recently reported, “The producers continue to sign up partners for the project. The latest is Ashland, Nebraska, which in the early 1950s was proclaimed the horse racing capital of Nebraska by the Omaha World-Herald.”
“We feel it’s important for us to build these partnerships across the state because this is a Nebraska story that has had a national and international impact on the Thoroughbred industry,” Lamp said. “It’s a story that’s virtually gone untold. Many Nebraskans have never heard about these men and the major impact they had on the horse racing industry. I’m still taken aback by the amount of respect people in the industry still have for them.”
Melody and Jody’s latest statement informs: “As co-producers of the new documentary film Born to Rein, we proudly announce a national branding and marketing partnership with Breeder’s Cup Limited, an organization Minatare, Nebraska native John A. Nerud was instrumental in co-founding….”
The duo visited Churchill Downs twice to film during Breeder’s Cup week; and presented a full showing of the work-in-progress BORN TO REIN during Derby week. They were also interviewed by national Sirius XM radio host Steve Byk of “At the Races”.
Dobson and Lamp plan a “sneak peek showing” of BORN TO REIN to coincide with the February 22 start of Nebraska’s 2019 live horse racing season, at Fonner Park in Grand Island. The full film schedule will be announced later this Spring, before the Triple Crown Races.
Located just west of Gering, Nebraska on Highway 92, the Legacy of the Plains Museum stands almost in the shadow of Scotts Bluff, the prominent geological feature named for an early 1800s fur trapper who died nearby. Buffalo hunting Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho who ranged there knew the place as Me-a-pa-te, “hill-that-is-hard-to-go-around.” Eagles hunting in the downdrafts never dreamed talented William Henry Jackson would come along to paint them, then have a major collection of his work housed there – or that their aeries would become a National Monument in 1919.
But the ancient ground where today’s museum stands has forever known one thing: horses. Hooves of Indian ponies and prized buffalo hunting mounts, toiling teams drawing wagons over the Oregon Trail, a portion of the 10,300,000 horses Armour’s Livestock Bureau tells us trailed north from Texas between 1867 and 1895, all passed there. How fitting that horses, and their people, were the reason for this party!
Decorations and the beautiful birthday cake greeting all who entered kicked off a celebration fit for a hero like the late John Nerud, local Thoroughbred racing icon. Commemorating the 106th Anniversary of John’s birth was only a sidebar to the ribbon-cutting ceremony opening an exciting new static display, including mileposts along Nerud’s trail to the top in Thoroughbred racing.