Move to preserve thoroughbred history at Winding Oaks

The Winding Oaks property is shown in this aerial photograph on Tuesday. More than 3,000 homes are planned for the site. [Dave Miller/Special to the Ocala Gazette]

Home » Community
Posted April 22, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee,

The Winding Oaks property is shown in this aerial photograph on Tuesday. More than 3,000 homes are planned for the site. [Dave Miller/Special to the Ocala Gazette]

On Tuesday, the Ocala City Council approved an amendment to the planned 960-acre development at Winding Oaks farm that will ensure the protection of a historic horse cemetery and the home of a famed Ocala thoroughbred trainer.

The move, approved unanimously by the council, also shifted some of the planned uses for the property, including designating 20 acres of the property as the future site of an elementary school and keeping about 225 acres as a working thoroughbred training center for the time being, according to David Boston, Ocala’s planning and zoning manager.

The plan would leave approximately 735 acres ready to develop more than 3,100 residential units, including more than 2,000 single-family homes and more than1,000 multifamily units, according to Boston.

While the path is clear for development, there has been no application to start building. Given the time frame for approval of such an application, the first homes are at least a couple of years away, said Boston in an email.

But the move to preserve the cemetery on the former thoroughbred farm is now secure. The effort came from residents during a virtual meeting held by the city’s engineering team in August.

John Nerud, who died in 2015 at the age of 102, was a legendary horseman and thoroughbred trainer who trained horses on the Winding Oaks property when it was Tartan Farm, one of Marion Counties last remaining legacy thoroughbred farms.

Nerud’s training polished Dr. Fager, a thoroughbred racehorse, into a four-time champion. Dr. Fager was named Horse of the Year, champion sprinter, champion turf male and champion older male in 1968, marking what many believe to be the single best season for a horse in history.

Dr. Fager, who was named after the neurosurgeon that saved Nerud’s life after being thrown from his horse, died in 1976 and is buried on the Winding Oaks property.

According to Art Roy, who lives in the Heath Brook Hills adjacent to Winding Oaks, anywhere from 14 to 23 horses are buried on the property. Other champion horses such as Intentionally and Ta Wee are believed to be buried there. Both the cemetery and the Nerud home are located on the north side of the property.

“A few of them, mostly the champions listed above, are buried whole,” Roy wrote in an email to David Boston, the city’s planning and zoning manager. “Others are buried in the tradition of head, heart and hoof.”

According to Roy, burials began in the 1960s and continued into the early 2000s.

Under the amendment, the horse cemetery would be part of the development’s 25% open-space requirement.

The property is owned by Canadian billionaire Eugene Melnyk’s Cradle Holdings, Inc, according to Marion County property records.

Melnyk bought the farm in 2001 but retired from the thoroughbred breeding and racing business in 2014.

No members of the public or the council challenged the resolution.

“We’ve had some meetings with chief (Mike Balken) and the mayor recently and just making sure that as we’re bringing this many new homes… this many new people into the city that we have the resources for our first responders, police, fire… across the board,” Council President Justin Grabelle said before offering his support. “We want to make sure they’re safe.”

newspaper icon

Support community journalism

The first goal of the Ocala Gazette is to deliver trustworthy local journalism so corruption, misinformation and abuse are not hidden from the public or unchallenged.

We count on community support to continue this important work. Please donate or subscribe: