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Canadian horseman Gerry Nelson dies at 86

January 25, 2019
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Canadian horseman Gerry Nelson, 86, died in Truro, Nova Scotia, on Jan. 11. According to a story in the Truro Daily, Mr. Nelson's funeral service was attended by many, including former hockey players and horsemen.

Mr. Nelson worked for fellow Canadian horsemen Ron Waples and Archie McNeil. He grew up in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, later well known as the hometown of Brent MacGrath, owner of Somebeachsomewhere. Like many Canadian boys, he played hockey.

The Truro Daily story shared that the 1951-52 season saw Nelson break into senior hockey with Truro Bearcats of the APC Hockey League. Nelson’s passion for horses included riding and winning with “Kilarney,” a saddle horse, in a betting pari-mutuel race during the 1947 Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition. Kilarney was owned by his brother, George, and purchased from his uncle Harlan Nelson. By the early 1950s, Nelson was in harness racing, recording his first win sitting behind Phil Vitale (named after a hockey player), who he owned with hockey teammate Bert Steel.

Mr. Nelson went to the U.S. to work for Joe O'Brien, who also hailed from the Canadian Maritimes. He returned to Nova Scotia in 1960 and won the driving championship at Sackville Downs. Nelson ran a successful public stable in Nova Scotia up until 1977, when he returned to California to spend five more years overseeing training for the Joe O’Brian Stable.

During his years working for McNeil and Waples, he was involved with the development and training of many of their stakes winners.

“When Gerry and Shirley joined our stable in Florida, they became a big part of our family,” McNeil, a Nova Scotia native now living in Westboro, MA, said in an email to the Truro Daily. “Not only did Gerry manage the stable, he and Shirley are greatly responsible for helping me raise my son into the man he is today. I will be forever grateful.
 
"But, as good as Gerry was with horses, he was better with people. Gerry treated everyone as if they were the most important person in the world. Gerry hired many, many grooms from Truro and around Nova Scotia and the Maritimes. I would hate to guess how many times Gerry went to bat for these kids. He bailed them out literally and figuratively.”

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