By Dick Jerardi
John Nash was a Saturday patron at the old Garden State Park in the early 1970s. In November 1972, he was playing what was a relatively new bet – the $3 trifecta. On three consecutive Saturdays, he hit a trifecta, first for $1,500, then for $3,300 and, finally, for $9,700. On the last one, he went beyond his normal 4-horse box ($72 investment) and bet $144 when a filly running against colts intrigued him enough to include her. The filly won the race.
“I made a decision at that time, I was going to put half of my winnings on the mortgage and with the other half, I was going to buy a horse,’’ Nash said.
He waited until March 1973 to claim his first horse. On May 5, 1973, the horse won. That just happened to be the same day Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby and set the Derby time record that still stands.
“So I was hooked,’’ Nash said,
Fast forward to 2021 and Nash has owned horses for nearly half a century. He bought a 7-acre farm a few years after that first win.
“I can’t say that I’ve made money, but I’ve made a lot of friends and a lot of associates and had a lot of great experiences,’’ Nash said.
One of those friends was a classmate at Monsignor Bonner, PTHA executive director Mike Ballezzi. When Ballezzi asked Nash to join the PTHA board recently, he did not hesitate to say yes.
Nash, of course, is very well known in the Delaware Valley as the general manager of the Sixers back in the day. He was also an NBA GM in Washington, New Jersey and Portland.
Back in 1973, the Saint Joseph’s graduate was working as the ticket manager for the Flyers. He was there for both of the Stanley Cups.
He was the executive director of the Big 5 before going to work with the Sixers as assistant GM in 1981 when Harold Katz bought the team. When GM Pat Williams left for Orlando to start a team there, Nash was elevated to GM. After working in the NBA for the better part of three decades, Nash retired from basketball.
“I had a good long run,’’ he said.
All the while, he owned horses and spent time at the track whenever he could. Along with who knows how many others, he was “part-owner’’ of 1987 Belmont Stakes winner Bet Twice, owned by his good friend Bob Levy.
Nash has never owned a stakes horse of his own. But he has owned some really neat horses. His favorite was Granite Run, named after the mall.
Nash sold the horse as a yearling. The horse bowed his tendons at Bowie. Nash bought him back as a riding horse. He thinks he paid $750.
He would watch Granite Run in the pasture at his little farm and “he looked pretty sound to me.’’ So he sent him back to the race track.
All Granite Run did in his career from 1977 to 1984 was run 123 times and win 21 races, with 24 seconds and 13 thirds. It wasn’t all for Nash as the horse kept getting claimed from him. And he kept claiming him back.
“He was like a pet,’’ Nash said. “Phil (Aristone) trained him for a while. Phil had him. Everybody had him. I kept him on my farm after his career was over. He lived to be almost 30-years-old.’’
Nash may have been involved with Bet Twice,, but he always has a special place in his heart for the $5,000 claimers.
“I have a great respect for the competitiveness of horses,’’ Nash said, “I love those campaigners.’’
Like Granite Run.
Nash’s farm was in Gradyville (Delaware County) which he describes as “a little dot on the map next to Glen Mills.’’
Nash sold the farm in 2001, but he never got out of the game. He lives not far from the old farm and is a frequent presence at Parx. Now, he is on the Board of Directors for the PTHA, his passion for the game and understanding of it obvious after nearly 50 years around the horses.