By Mint Julep

Carl Nafzger Trainer: Two Kentucky Derby Winners

kentucky derby winner unbridled 1990

Key Takeaways

  • Carl Nafzger, who used to ride bulls in rodeos and became a top horse trainer in American Thoroughbred racing, had an impressive career switch.
  • Nafzger trained two horses that won the Kentucky Derby – Unbridled in 1990 and Street Sense in 2007. This made him known as a talented and successful trainer.
  • He earned awards like the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer, got into famous Hall of Fames, and left a big impact on horse racing with his exceptional training skills.

Early Life and Rodeo Career

Born on August 29, 1941, in Plainview, Texas, Carl A. Nafzger started his career as a champion rodeo bull rider before moving into the world of horse training in American Thoroughbred racing.

Nafzger’s shift from rodeo excitement to the elegance of horse racing was driven by his determination and passion for working with horses. His time as a rodeo star not only improved his skills but also gave him a deep understanding of horse behavior and athleticism that would shape his training techniques later on.

After retiring from rodeo life, Nafzger focused on thoroughbred training with unmatched dedication. His natural ability to bond with horses at a profound level along with years of experience set him apart from other trainers. This change illustrated not just his versatility but also showed how one can smoothly transition from one equestrian field to another successfully.

Introduction to Horse Training

After Carl Nafzger had to stop bull riding due to a leg injury, he switched gears and started training Thoroughbred horses, which turned out to be a game-changer for his career. He poured his heart and soul into horse racing, using his expertise and determination to achieve remarkable success on the racetrack over many years.

As a trainer, Nafzger achieved incredible victories in some of the most prestigious American Thoroughbred races. Notably, two of his standout moments were when he trained Unbridled and Street Sense, both Kentucky Derby champions. These wins not only cemented Nafzger’s reputation as an elite trainer but also highlighted his talent for bringing out the best in every horse he worked with.

Nafzger’s influence can still be felt today within the equestrian world. His well-deserved place among sporting legends is evident in how he has been honored by prestigious institutions for his outstanding contributions to Thoroughbred racing. From rodeo arenas to grand race tracks, Carl Nafzger’s legacy remains an inspiration for trainers and fans alike across different generations.

The Pros & Cons of Equine Training Techniques


  1. Helps horses get stronger and more fit

  2. Boosts a horse's focus and discipline

  3. Strengthens the bond between trainer and horse

  4. Reduces injuries by keeping the horse in good shape

  5. Improves agility and coordination in horses

  6. Increases a horse's chances of winning competitions


  1. Pushing yourself too hard in workouts can result in physical strain or injury

  2. Using ineffective training techniques might lead to behavioral issues in horses

  3. Not customizing training methods for each horse could work against you

  4. Applying excessive pressure during training could damage the horse's trust in the trainer

  5. Changing up your training routines too often may slow down progress and performance

  6. If you don't execute your training well, it can cause burnout or disinterest in the horse

Kentucky Derby Triumphs

Carl Nafzger made a big impact on American horse racing, especially for training two horses that won the Kentucky Derby. The first star was Unbridled, who raced to victory in 1990 with Nafzger guiding him expertly. This win not only showed off Nafzger’s talent but also proved he was a top competitor in the world of horse racing.

Then came Street Sense in 2007, another amazing horse that proudly wore Carl Nafzger’s colors as they crossed the finish line at Churchill Downs. With his careful attention and years of experience, Nafzger transformed Street Sense into a champion of the Derby, cementing his position among the best trainers around. These wins are more than just victories—they demonstrate dedication, skill, and an unwavering love for the sport.

The Kentucky Derby is highly respected in horse racing; winning it twice is no small achievement. Carl Nafzger’s ability to shape talented horses into winners shows both his natural connection with these animals and his strong commitment to excellence on the racetrack. His name joins those of some legendary trainers in horse racing history—forever part of America’s rich sporting culture.

Stepping onto famous tracks like Churchill Downs with two winning horses speaks volumes about Carl Nafzger’s skills as an outstanding trainer. Every stride down those iconic lanes witnessed not just speed and power but also strategy and finesse developed over years spent perfecting his craft. As these magnificent horses raced towards victory against that recognizable twin spire backdrop, they carried with them memories created by one man: Carl Nafzger—the mastermind behind a beautiful symphony played out amidst cheering crowds and thundering hooves on derby day.

Breeders’ Cup Achievements

Carl Nafzger was an exceptional horse trainer who won two Kentucky Derbys at Churchill Downs. He also excelled at the prestigious Breeders’ Cup races. His talent and intuition were clear when Unbridled won the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Classic, showing his skill in preparing horses for top competitions on different tracks and distances.

In 2006, Street Sense’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile further showcased Carl Nafzger’s abilities. This win highlighted his talent for developing young horse talents and nurturing champions from their early days on the track. It emphasized his keen eye for spotting potential and bringing out the best in horses when it mattered most—qualities that made him stand out as one of racing’s top trainers.

By training these champion Thoroughbreds rigorously, planning strategically, and staying dedicated, Carl Nafzger reaped great rewards at these major events. His meticulous attention to detail combined with a deep understanding of each horse allowed him to develop winning strategies tailored to their strengths—a testament to his strong bond with these incredible animals.

Carl Nafzger’s victories at both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup not only mark significant moments in racing history but also serve as lasting proof of this legendary trainer’s unmatched skills within America’s equestrian world. Through Unbridled and Street Sense, he secured a place among racing legends while leaving an unforgettable mark on some of the sport’s grandest competitions—a legacy that solidifies Carl Nafzger as one of horse racing’s all-time greats worldwide.

Legendary Trainer: Triumphs, Accolades & Notable Horses

Occupation Born Career wins Major racing wins Racing awards Honours Significant horses
Horse trainer August 29, 1941 (age 82) Plainview, Texas, United States 1,128+ (ongoing) – Breeders’ Futurity (1980, 1986)
– Arlington Classic (1981)
– Arlington Oaks (1983, 1989, 1991, 1995)
– Washington Park Handicap (1985)
– Alcibiades Stakes (1986, 2002)
– Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (1989)
– Florida Derby (1990)
– Lexington Stakes (1990, 2000)
– Secretariat Stakes (1990)
– Super Derby (1990)
– Memorial Day Handicap (1995)
– Alabama Stakes (1998, 2007)
– Bonnie Miss Stakes (1998)
– Coaching Club American Oaks (1998)
– Spinster Stakes (1998)
– Apple Blossom Handicap (1999)
– Go For Wand Handicap (1999)
– Travers Stakes (2000, 2007)
– Commonwealth Breeders’ Cup Stakes (2001)
– Stonerside Beaumont Stakes (2003)
– Tampa Bay Derby (2007)
– Jim Dandy Stakes (2007)
U.S. Triple Crown series:
– Kentucky Derby (1990, 2007)
Breeders’ Cup wins:
– Breeders’ Cup Classic (1990)
– Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (2006)
– Big Sport of Turfdom Award (1990, 2007)
– Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer (1990)
– Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame (2007)
– Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame (2008)
– United States Racing Hall of Fame (2008)
– Unbridled
– Banshee Breeze
– Street Sense
– Fairway Phantom
– Home At Last
– Super Abound
– Unshaded
– Vicar
– Star Choice
– Mayo on the Side

Awards and Recognition

Carl Nafzger had a brilliant career filled with moments of triumph and recognition. His expertise in training thoroughbred horses led to him receiving prestigious awards, such as the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 1990. This award showcased his exceptional skills in horse racing. He was also honored with The Big Sport of Turfdom Awards in both 1990 and 2007, further solidifying his reputation as a master of the turf.

Being inducted into various Hall of Fames has left a lasting mark on Carl Nafzger’s legacy within horse racing history. His impressive achievements go beyond just wins and losses; they represent a commitment to excellence that continues through generations. With each induction into renowned halls celebrating equestrian sports, Nafzger’s name became synonymous with greatness—a trainer whose passion and skill not only elevated individual horses but also reshaped American Thoroughbred racing.

As he walked alongside champions at racetracks, Carl Nafzger demonstrated what it takes to be a standout figure in an industry steeped in tradition and competition. The awards displayed proudly on his shelf served not only as reminders of past victories but also as guiding lights for aspiring trainers striving for mastery themselves. From being an exceptional rodeo bull rider to becoming a skilled trainer, Nafzger’s journey serves as inspiration—proving that dedication, knowledge, and unwavering commitment can lead straight to victory circles around the world.

Notable Horses Trained

Carl Nafzger’s talent for training horses shines brightly through the amazing list of horses he has guided. From the energetic Unbridled to the determined Street Sense, each horse showed Nafzger’s expert touch in shaping champions. Banshee Breeze and Fairway Phantom added their own unique style to his legacy, demonstrating a wide range of skills honed by this skilled trainer. Home At Last found comfort under Nafzger’s guidance, while Super Abound displayed endless energy—a clear sign of Nafzger’s expertise in recognizing each horse’s individual strengths.

Vicar and Star Choice gracefully galloped under Carl Nafzger’s attentive supervision, embodying elegance and power paired with strategic training methods that only an experienced professional like him could offer. Mayo on the Side brought an element of surprise into play, challenging both horse and trainer but ultimately emerging as another shining achievement in Nafzger’s collection. Each horse not only mirrored his dedication but also proved his ability to nurture greatness within these magnificent animals.

The rich tapestry crafted by Carl Nafzger goes beyond mere victories; it embodies an unyielding commitment to excellence that resonates across generations of equestrian fans. His skill in bringing out the best in every steed he trained is evident through these names engraved in racing history—an enduring tribute to a man who elevated horsemanship from a skill into an art form deserving celebration for years to come.

Legendary Trainer: Tales of Derby Glory.

  1. Tales of Derby Glory with the Legendary Trainer

  2. Let's talk about Carl Nafzger, a famous horse trainer who rocked the racing world by winning the Kentucky Derby twice in his career.

  3. Back in 1990, Nafzger scored his first victory at the Kentucky Derby with Unbridled, who dashed to success under jockey Pat Day.

  4. Fast forward to 2007 when Nafzger nailed down another win at the Kentucky Derby with Street Sense and jockey Calvin Borel pulling off an electrifying finish at Churchill Downs.

  5. What sets Nafzger apart is his cool and methodical training style that has earned him respect as a top-notch figure in horse racing circles.

  6. Even though he stepped back from training in 2018, Carl Nafzger's incredible accomplishments continue to inspire and shape the world of horse racing today.

Semi-retirement Phase

During the late 2000s and early 2010s, Carl Nafzger started to wind down his impressive career and move towards a semi-retirement phase. He decided to focus more on personalized training for specific clients like James B. Tafel and Bentley Smith. This shift allowed Nafzger to slow down while still maintaining his high standards of horsemanship.

In this period of semi-retirement, Nafzger showcased his expertise by providing individualized care for each horse he trained. His keen eye for detail and deep understanding of horse behavior made him stand out as an excellent trainer. Working with fewer horses gave him the opportunity to spend more time perfecting their skills on the track.

Despite taking a step back from full-time training, Nafzger remained dedicated to nurturing champions during this phase of his career. He was committed to developing not only their physical abilities but also their mental strength—a key factor in his success over the years.

Nafzger’s limited client base in semi-retirement reflected trust in his abilities and respect for the knowledge he brought to every training session. Each session with him felt like learning from a master artist—gentle yet impactful guidance helping both horse and rider excel on race day.

As Nafzger moved through this refined chapter instead of focusing solely on speed, it became clear that even though he had taken a step back from mainstream racing circuits, his influence extended beyond just winning or losing races—it was about creating legacies that would resonate through generations via hoofbeats.

Bull Riding Background

In the 1960s, Carl Nafzger was a skilled bull rider who even made it to the National Finals Rodeo three times before he had to retire due to a serious leg injury. Transitioning from riding wild rodeo bulls to training champion racehorses was quite a challenge, but Nafzger tackled it with finesse. His deep understanding of animal behavior helped him excel in both worlds – whether he was on top of a bucking bronco or guiding a powerful Thoroughbred around the track.

Nafzger’s journey from thrilling rodeos to strategic horse racing reflects his adaptability and love for equine sports. The determination he showed while handling fierce bulls effortlessly transitioned into his patient yet firm approach when working with horses – making him stand out in the competitive world of Thoroughbred racing.

Carl Nafzger’s expertise in both bull riding and horse training demonstrates his versatility and passion for animals. His shift from one intense sport to another shows how dedication, skill, and an unyielding spirit can lead someone down unexpected but amazing paths within equestrian sports.

Induction Into Hall of Fames

Carl Nafzger’s exceptional talents go far beyond just training horses. In 2008, he was proudly inducted into the prestigious Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame as a recognition of his outstanding achievements. This honor showcased his diverse skills and contributions to equestrian sports, highlighting his journey from being a champion rodeo bull rider to becoming a legendary horse trainer.

Nafzger’s induction into the revered Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame not only celebrated his success in the rodeo world but also acknowledged his remarkable abilities and dedication in thoroughbred horse racing. His seamless transition between these two distinct disciplines displayed his expertise and versatility across various areas of equine athletics.

This induction marked a major milestone in Nafzger’s impressive career, signifying not only personal triumph but also honoring the legacy he had built through years of hard work and passion for horses. It stood as proof of his enduring influence on both rodeo and horse racing communities, establishing him as an influential figure in equestrian sports history.

Through such accolades like entering halls of fame such as the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, Carl Nafzger proved that excellence has no limits – transcending different fields while leaving an unforgettable impact wherever he went. His legacy serves as inspiration for young riders and trainers alike, reminding us that true greatness comes from unwavering dedication, deep love for animals, and an insatiable drive for success.

Legacy and Impact

Carl A. Nafzger had a huge impact on American Thoroughbred racing. His amazing training methods turned horses like Unbridled and Street Sense into champions, showing his incredible talent in shaping horse abilities for the most important races.

Nafzger’s influence can still be felt in the sport today. He achieved great success at events like the Kentucky Derby, proving his skill and commitment. The way he carefully prepared and guided horses to victory not only built his reputation but also left a lasting impression on those who saw these majestic animals race to glory under his guidance.

More than just winning races, Carl Nafzger’s legacy has resonated deeply within equestrian communities for years to come. His inclusion in prestigious halls of fame shows how much of an impact he made, immortalizing him as one of the brightest stars in American horse racing history—a man whose love for these magnificent creatures goes beyond mere victories, blending artistry with athleticism perfectly.


1. How did Carl Nafzger's background as a champion rodeo bull rider influence his career as a successful horse trainer?

Growing up as a champion rodeo bull rider, Carl Nafzger gained valuable insights into horse behavior and learned the significance of patience and skill. These experiences played a crucial role in shaping his successful career as a horse trainer.

2. What were the key training methods and philosophies that Carl Nafzger employed to guide Unbridled and Street Sense to victory in the Kentucky Derby?

Carl Nafzger used specific training techniques and beliefs to lead Unbridled and Street Sense to win the Kentucky Derby. His methods included being patient, recognizing each horse's unique requirements, forming close bonds with the horses, and paying careful attention to every aspect of their training routines.

3. Can you elaborate on Carl Nafzger's impact on the American Thoroughbred racing industry beyond his training of two Kentucky Derby champions?

Carl Nafzger has made a significant impact on the American Thoroughbred racing industry, going beyond just training two Kentucky Derby champions. He is well-known for his outstanding horsemanship, dedication to the sport, and talent in developing top-notch racehorses that have truly influenced the world of racing.

4. What distinguishes Carl Nafzger's approach to horse training from other renowned trainers in the equestrian world?

Carl Nafzger stands out in horse training for his thorough grasp of each horse's unique traits, his calm and instinctive techniques, and his knack for forming close connections with his horses. These skills have helped him achieve impressive victories on the racetrack.

5. How did Carl Nafzger's induction into prestigious halls of fame, such as the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, solidify his legacy in the realm of horse racing?

Carl Nafzger earned a spot in the prestigious halls of fame, including the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. This recognition solidified his legacy in horse racing by honoring his outstanding talent, dedication, and significant impact on the sport. As a trainer, he led two Kentucky Derby champions to victory: Unbridled and Street Sense.

6. In what ways has Carl Nafzger's expertise and dedication influenced aspiring trainers and shaped contemporary practices in Thoroughbred racing?

Carl Nafzger's incredible skill and strong commitment have motivated many new trainers with his impressive accomplishments, such as coaching two Kentucky Derby winners. He has also established a high standard for success in Thoroughbred racing that still impacts how things are done in the industry today.