If you were to watch Serge Nadeau on any South Florida golf course, enjoying a casual round with his son, Eric, he would seem like a typical retiree.
And after spending 32 years as a police officer near Montreal, the 61-year-old Nadeau is seemingly deserving of rest and relaxation. But you won't often find him resting. Awake at 4:30 every morning, Nadeau heads to the Bruce Ranger Stable at Pompano Park and goes to work training racehorses.
Nadeau, who started training horses at the age of 18, has been working with Ranger since 1999. In 2001, his horses won $336,066 and last year he had career highs of 110 wins and $694,558 in purse earnings. Through March 1 of this year, he had won 23 races and $189,818. Through mid-February, he ranked second in the trainer standings at Pompano Park. Not bad for a "retiree." But, then again, Nadeau has never been one to be inactive. In addition to serving as a police officer, the final eight years of which he was a narcotics detective, Nadeau has always been involved in sports. He routinely shot in the low-to-mid 80s when he played golf on a more regular basis.
But that's nothing compared to his hockey skills. A little more than four decades ago, he was good enough to get a training camp invitation from the Montreal Canadiens - the same Canadiens who had just won five straight Stanley Cup championships from 1956 to 1960.
Unfortunately, Nadeau never made it to the camp. He had just started his job with the police department, and didn't have time to take off. And although he gave up a chance to play alongside future Hall of Famers including Jean Beliveau, Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, Henri "The Pocket Rocket" Richard, and Jacques Plante, Nadeau said he has no regrets. "I think I was a pretty good policeman for 32 years," he said. "It was a hard job, but I always enjoyed it. I've enjoyed my life."
Nadeau got into harness racing when his brother, Rene, bought a Standardbred with the idea of using it as a riding horse. "I said, 'Why not try to race him.' It became my passion after that," Nadeau recalled. "I enjoy my life with horses. That's my gift in the world. For me, it's not work."
After retiring from the police department, he spent some time in California, then went to visit his son, Eric, who also is involved in harness racing, in Florida. It was there that he met Ranger and decided to relocate to the Sunshine State with his wife of 38 years, Francine. He misses his two daughters in Montreal, but added quickly, "I don't miss the weather. It's a tough winter."
He said his relationship with Ranger has been a productive partnership. Last year, Ranger drove to 398 wins and a career-high $1.74 million in purses. As of March 1, he needed 130 wins to reach 5,000 for his career. "It's very good," Nadeau said. "We work well together and make a ver good team. He's so talented as a driver, it's unbelievable. I've learned a lot of things from him. We have big respect together. He's a very good boss. We have good horses, good owners, good driver, good grooms - we've got most everything."
The most productive horses in Nadeau's care have been The Aussie Fighter and The Paper Wazoo. Last month, The Aussie Fighter was second in the $160,000 Isle of Capri Pace Final. (Nadeau was second in the same race in 2002 with The Paper Wazoo). He said The Aussie Fighter ran a strong race, getting beaten by a neck by Corporate Rrraider despite pacing much of the mile on the outside.
"He's a great horse," Nadeau said about The Aussie Fighter, an eight-year-old who has won five of seven starts and $80,000 this year. "He's not a big horse, but he's got a big heart like a lion. He's unbelievable, so easy to train. We sent him to the farm to rest for two or three weeks. He might race one more time here, then we will send him to race at The Meadowlands. I've never seen him race on a mile track. I think he'll do well."
The Paper Wazoo has won 16 races and $148,770 since 2001. "He has quick speed," Nadeau said. "He's unbelievable." Nadeau has owned more than two dozen horses over the years, racing primarily in Quebec.
"I always had good success in Montreal," he said. "If you work hard, you have success. You give the best you can. Any good horse, if you don't care about it, it's not going to be the same horse. Of course, it's like any sport. It's like hockey - if you're a good coach and don't have good players, you're in trouble."
Nadeau said he plans to continue training for at least another four years, health permitting. He still has goals he would like to accomplish. "Maybe I will win the Hambletonian some day," he said. "Some day, I'm going to win a big race, I'm sure."
But for now, this "retiree" is happy to simply have fun. "I enjoy the life," he said. "I don't think to rest."