Mark Messier lifted the Stanley Cup six times during his NHL career, but it will be a different Messier going for a title on Saturday.
With the Kentucky Derby this Saturday, one of the horses has a name that will be very familiar to hockey fans. Messier, a Canadian-bred racehorse, is set to compete as one of the 20 horses at Churchill Downs.
The three-year-old colt is one of the biggest names heading into the 148th version of the event. It was born and bred at Sam-Son Farms in Milton, Ont. It was purchased as a yearling by Tom Ryan and his group, SF Bloodstock / SF Racing LLC.
The horse started racing in June of 2021, grabbing its first win in November at the Bob Hope Stakes in San Diego. It then won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in February.
Messier was originally trained under long-time horse trainer Bob Baffert but switched to Tim Yakteen after Baffert’s suspension from the Kentucky Racing Board. He was suspended after his horse Medina Spirit was found to have a banned substance in his system when it won the Kentucky Derby in 2021.
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Ahead of the Kentucky Derby, Ryan is confident in the horse’s ability to come out on top.
“We have a Grade 1 horse that, in my personal opinion, I would not choose to swap for anybody else in the race,” Ryan said. “We definitely haven’t seen the best of this horse yet. I think there’s bigger and better things to come.”
There may even be a chance that Messier himself comes to see the horse sharing his namesake.
“I think there’s a chance,” Ryan said about Messier possibly being at the Kentucky Derby. “I do not think anything is confirmed yet, but I think the likelihood is that he’ll be there.”
How did Messier get its name?
Ryan’s wife Katie has ties to the hockey world. Her father is Pat Hughes, who played in the NHL for 10 seasons, including four seasons with the Oilers. Her uncle is Mark Naper, another former NHL player who spent 11 seasons in the league, three with Edmonton.
During both their teams in Alberta, they played with Messier, hence the connection between the family and the NH legend. From that came the inspiration for the horse’s name.
“A couple of years ago, I attended an Oilers reunion where her father and uncle were,” Ryan said, “and we got to spend time with members of [the] team in Edmonton. We spent time with all the great players from that era. Not long after, I spoke to my father-in-law about naming a horse after Messier. His comment at the time was: ‘If you’re going to do it, get it right!’ So far, the horse is holding down his end of the bargain. He’s extremely talented, just like his namesake. “
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Is Messier a favorite to win the Kentucky Derby?
Heading into the weekend, Messier is considered to be a favorite to win the Derby.
According to Sports Interaction, Messier enters as an 8 to 1 favorite, the third-lowest odds behind Zandon and Epicenter.