An articulate and humorous man, Carl Nafzger doesn’t seem like the sort of fellow who would spend 10 years trying to break his neck by riding bulls in the rodeo, but he did. When he quit rodeo riding in 1971, he began training racehorses and had his first stakes winner the same year.
The 1970s were a decade of struggle, however, as Carl and his wife Wanda worked to make a success of their training stable.
Nafzger’s third stakes winner was the What a Pleasure colt Fairway Phantom, who won the G1 Arlington Classic in 1981. Fairway Phantom also won Nafzger an introduction to John Nerud. Nerud clearly liked the man and his training because he sent Tartan Farm horses to Nafzger, and in 1982 Nerud also sent some horses from the stable of Mrs. Frances A. Genter.
Nafzger credits Nerud for believing in his training theories, helping him to acquire promising horse, and then helping to pacify owners until Nafzger could win some good races for them. The first youngsters from the Genter Stable included stakes winners Passing Base, Choose a Partner, and My Dear Lady.
Choose a Partner is a good example of the training philosophy that appealed to Nerud. the Chieftain filly won a maiden race and was stakes-placed at 2 in four starts. That put down the foundation for building a good year at 3, and the filly responded by winning four of 10 starts, $111,767 and the G3 Arlington Oaks. At 4, Choose a Partner was even better, winning the G2 Arlington Matron.
Genter Stable horses sometimes moved from Florida trainer Frank Gomez to Nafzger in the Midwest or to Scotty Schulhofer in New Your as the owner and trainers spotted each horse where it could do best. For instance, Nafzger had champion sprinter Smile when he won the Fairmount Derby, but Schulhofer had the colt when he won the BC Sprint. On the other hand, Nafzger had Choose a Partner’s half-brother, the G1 Metropolitan Handicap winner Star Choice, when he ran second to Royal Heroine in the BC Mile in 1984.
The first pinnacle of Nafzger’s career came with Genter Stable’s Unbridled, the winner of the 1990 Kentucky Derby and BC Classic who was voted champion 3-year-old colt.
Unbridled was associated with several more of the high spots in Nafzger’s storied career. Among the best were training champion Banshee Breeze and Travers Stakes winner Unshaded.
Nafzger added a bookend to his classic career with 2006 champion juvenile Street Sense (BC Juvenile), who came back the next season to win the Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes.