Documentary spotlights state’s horse racing heritage

SCOTTSBLUFF — As authors Jody Lamp and Melody Dobson researched the spread of agriculture from east to west for a book, they discovered a story that’s been largely forgotten. They want future generations to know about it.

“Born to Rein” is the title of their upcoming documentary chronicling the importance Nebraska played in the development of today’s horse racing industry.

Two of the featured players are the Van Berg family of Grand Island and Minatare native John Nerud, who was one of the founders of Breeders Cup Classic and played an integral part in breeding consistent winners for the Triple Crown races.

Dobson, from a Montana farm family, said her interest in untold stories started when she was working with the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission, telling the story of our young nation’s westward expansion.

After that project wrapped up, she still wanted to discover and preserve new, little known stories for future generations.

Joining with Lamp in 2011, the pair became coordinators for a national documentary on the American wheat harvest. That led to their ongoing collaborative work called the American Doorstop Project.

“Our goal was to look for every opportunity to tell an untold story that has a place in our historical timeline,” Dobson said. “That historical narrative helps us provide honor and integrity to those relationships. That’s one of our values.”

The beginnings of their documentary go back to 2009 when Lamp was researching the book “A History of Nebraska Agriculture: A Life Worth Living.”

With Dobson helping out, it later became obvious the story of Nebraska horse racing needed to be larger than a chapter in the book. The result was “Born to Rein,” which should be ready for screening in early 2019, in time for the 100th anniversary of the Triple Crown.

Once Lamo announced the project was in the works, social media started to buzz in a big way. The Breeders Cup organization went on Twitter to share the story with its 80,000 followers.

The Paulick Report, one of horse racing’s leading websites, picked up the story as well. A New York radio host that covers the industry contacted Lamp and Dobson for an interview. Plus the project received a glowing letter of support from the Queens (New York) Historical Society, site of the nation’s first horse racing track when New York was still a British colony.

A 1931 Minatare graduate, Nerud started as a jockey, racing horses at the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds in Mitchell. This was also about the time the U.S. Army was using stallions in their Remount Service at Fort Robinson.

Nerud eventually became one of industry’s leaders in breeding and training championship horses. His work in Florida was the foundation that led to one of the state’s premiere horse breeding farms. He died in New York at the age of 102.

Dobson said assembling the pieces for the documentary’s trailer was like a jigsaw puzzle coming together. The story kept unfolding as they did more research, which added more depth to the people and places that will appear in the completed film.

Lamp and Dobson spent some time at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York, where they were able to meet with people who had worked with John Nerud.

Dobson called it a “settling” experience of being on the right track when they learned what esteem he continues to receive from colleagues.

Lamp made a “safe” estimation. Many of the Triple Crown winning horses carry bloodlines that can be traced back to Nerud.

“People don’t think of Nebraska as a thoroughbred horse racing capital of America,” Jody said. “The significance of John Nerud and the Van Berg family have made a major impact on the industry and they’re still revered today. We can all be part of the celebration because they shined a national spotlight on our state.”

Jody Lamp