Derby favorite’s owner likes Wing-ing it with horses

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Nyquist, ridden by Mario Gutierrez, runs away in the Florida Derby on April 2 at Gulfstream Park, winning by eight lengths.

Detroit — Times are good for thoroughbred owner J. Paul Reddam.

They could be better Saturday night.

That’s when he hopes his horse Nyquist, named after Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist, is in the winner’s circle wearing a garland of roses after winning the Kentucky Derby.

But, things aren’t that perfect at least off the track.

“It would be nicer if the Red Wings were still in the playoffs,” said Reddam, a Windsor native who has been a Red Wings fan since he was about 5.

Reddam, 60, has been able to mix his two loves, naming several of the horses after Red Wings players. Among them — Tomas Tatar, Petr Mrazek, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk.

Mrazek, in fact, has won some stakes races.

But only Nyquist has truly excelled.

“My horse doesn’t do as well,” said Tatar, who has kidded Nyquist about his namesake’s success. “I was a little upset about it. But it’s great. It’s a lot of fun, and we’re honored (about the namesakes).”

Said Reddam, a co-owner with Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson: “I’ll do it sometimes just to bug Erik, like ‘Let’s name this horse a Red Wings player.’ It’s a good way to bug him a little bit.”

Reddam and Nyquist have texted several times about the player possibly attending the Kentucky Derby. But, Nyquist committed to playing for Sweden at the World Championships, which begins this weekend.

Nyquist, though, admits it can be a bit strange listening to his namesake’s races.

“It’s a little different when you hear your name mentioned in a horse race and not a hockey game,” he said.

Red Wings center Gustav Nyquist said it's odd hearing his name during a horse race but hopes his namesake wins the Kentucky Derby.

Nyquist the horse is undefeated in seven races — including the $2 million Breeders Cup Juvenile (2-year-old championship) last October — and is considered the favorite for Saturday’s race at Churchill Downs at 3-1. He’s won more than $3.4 million.

Mohaymen is next at 9-2, Exaggerator is 5-1, and Gun Runner, the Derby Preps points leader, is 6-1.

And, Nyquist is considered by some able to duplicate American Pharoah’s Triple Crown achievement of a year ago, especially after winning the Florida Derby over Mohaymen by eight lengths.

“He’s fast and he wins races,” said Nyquist, the hockey player. “That’s good for a horse.”

And, he has all the attributes to make a successful Triple Crown run — breakaway speed, toughness and demeanor.

“He’s a jock of a horse,” said trainer Doug O’Neill, a Dearborn native who, along with Reddam, won the Kentucky Derby four years ago with I’ll Have Another. “He’s powerful and has the type of work ethic you love to see.”

O’Neill credits his brother Dennis, who scouts horses for Reddam, for finding Nyquist in Florida early last year and seeing the instincts and attributes that have made him successful.

“He carries himself with a lot of confidence,” O’Neill said.

He also has an attribute most hockey players don’t.

“Unlike hockey players, he has all his teeth,” O’Neill said, laughing.

All joking aside, though, Nyquist the hockey player is more than pleased to hear his name linked with horse greatness.

A native of Sweden, where horse racing is mildly popular, Nyquist wasn’t a huge racing fan until he kept hearing his name associated with a prize-winning horse.

Now, he’s more than intrigued.

“I’ve seen him run,” Nyquist said. “He wins races. He’s faster than the other horses.

“I’m just hoping for his best and hopefully he wins the big race.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

Kentucky Derby

When: Saturday, Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.

Post time: 6:34 p.m. (approx.)

TV: NBCSN — Wednesday, 5:30-6 p.m. (post position draw), Friday, 12:30-6 p.m. (Kentucky Oaks), Saturday, 12-4 p.m. (Derby undercard); NBC — 4-7:30 p.m., Kentucky Derby

Purse: $2 million

Distance: 1 1/4 miles

Field: Top 20 Thoroughbreds, by points won in Derby Preps

Leaders: Gun Runner (151 points), Nyquist (130), Exaggerator (126), Outwork (120), Brody’s Cause (114)

Horse racing notebook: Monday good for Derby workouts