A tale of two Nyquists

December 6th, 2020

Pop quiz: when you hear the name Nyquist, do you think of hockey or horse racing?

The question was timely throughout the spring of 2016 as the unbeaten horse Nyquist, named in honor of the NHL player then with the Detroit Red Wings, won the Kentucky Derby (G1). But it became relevant again more recently when both Nyquists made headlines in the first week of November.

Kentucky Derby champ Nyquist and the NHL's Gustav Nyquist (Courtesy KentuckyDerby.com)

Just a couple of days after news broke that Gustav Nyquist underwent shoulder surgery, the horse Nyquist – long retired to the stud life – celebrated a major success as a young stallion.

From his very first crop of foals, he sired Vequist, winner of the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Keeneland. That’s the same track where Nyquist himself had won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to clinch a championship.

The confluence of events evoked memories of how Nyquist got his name. A $400,000 purchase as an unraced 2-year-old in training, the colt was campaigned by die-hard Red Wings fan J. Paul Reddam.

The Windsor, Ontario, native became dedicated to the team from his early childhood, his memories reaching back to the early 1960s. His attachment was cemented by the fact that his mother was a legal secretary in the office of John Ziegler, who at that time served as the Red Wings general counsel.

The team’s swag would make its way to the Reddam household, and Paul was a fan for life.

A onetime philosophy professor who made his fortune in the lending industry, Reddam campaigned notable Thoroughbreds before Nyquist came along. Several of them, including Breeders’ Cup winners Wilko (2004 Juvenile) and Red Rocks (2006 Turf [G1]), were acquired after they were already named runners.

Those named by Reddam tended to allude to his wife, Zillah, from Zillah the Hun, to Elloluv (a phonetic rendering of how she says “Hello love” in her British accent), and most famously, I’ll Have Another. The 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (G1) winner who was retired due to injury on the eve of a Triple Crown attempt in the Belmont (G1), I’ll Have Another was reportedly a reference to Reddam’s wanting another cookie. That’s the official story, anyway.

Reddam and the Red Wings

Reddam started naming horses after Red Wings because of a conversation with another hockey player – Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche, who has occasionally partnered with Reddam in buying youngsters. Reddam’s entity for purchasing and reselling such prospects is called “Red Wings.”

“I was teasing Erik that he should sign as a free agent with the Wings and he said he would never play for the Wings,” Reddam said according to a 2016 Reuters article. “So I said, ‘OK, I’m going to name my next couple of horses after the Wings just to bug you,’ and one of them happened to be Nyquist.”

Others with Red Wings-inspired names include Datsyuk, Kronwall, Lidstrom, Mrazek, Tatar, and Zetterberg. They didn’t pan out, but the equine version of Nyquist did.

Granted that parallels between human athletes and racehorses can be strained, it is still a point of commonality that both Nyquists revealed their talent early on. Gus Nyquist arrived from his native Sweden to make an immediate impact as a freshman for the University of Maine’s mens’ hockey team. The NCAA points leader during his sophomore season in 2009-2010, he was a finalist for the prestigious Hobey Baker Memorial Award.

The O'Neills

While the forward Nyquist was a fourth-round draft pick for the Red Wings, the equine Nyquist was described as the equivalent of a first-rounder by trainer Doug O’Neill. The colt was scouted out by the sharp eye of brother Dennis O’Neill, who also discovered I’ll Have Another.

The O’Neills add a further Michigan dimension to the story, as reported by the Detroit Free Press. From Dearborn, the brothers attended Divine Child Elementary School. Their father, Patrick, enjoyed betting on the races at the old Detroit Race Course and Hazel Park when not working for Michigan Bell. After the family relocated to Southern California, 10-year-old Doug was delighted to go with his dad to Santa Anita, where he was captivated by the sport and determined to make it his career.

The horse Nyquist arguably exceeded the hockey Nyquist by becoming an unbeaten champion in his first season of racing. And unlike Gus, the horse has gotten up close and personal with the Stanley Cup, a special opportunity arranged the morning of his Kentucky Derby win.

But all flesh and blood is susceptible to wear and tear, something both Nyquists learned all too well. Nyquist the horse was beaten in his three starts after the Derby and retired with a “puffy ankle.”  

Gus, traded to the San Jose Sharks for a short stint in 2019, signed a 4-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He developed a shoulder problem that became bothersome enough for surgery, requiring a five- to six-month recuperation period. With the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the start of an NHL season that is still under negotiation, taking the time to get healthy now looks like a wise move.

Meanwhile, you might say that the stallion Nyquist donned his own “blue jacket,” after a fashion. He resides at the Kentucky division of Sheikh Mohammed’s global Darley enterprise. Darley is the breeding complement to his elite Godolphin racing operation, famous the world over for its all-blue silks.

Is the tale of two Nyquists now complete?

Not if the hockey Nyquist makes his comeback around late April or early May, when Nyquist’s daughter Vequist could be going for the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Maybe a son, like the well-named Gretzky the Great, will have emerged on the Derby trail. More postscripts might be still to come.

Vequist (Horsephotos.com/Cecilia Gustavsson)