There was only one choice: if a Canadian-bred colt is a son of Nyquist, what do you call him? You name him after Wayne Gretzky, the Great One. Side note: Wayne Gretzky was born the same year as Northern Dancer. What could make more sense?
Nyquist, the horse, was named after Columbus Blue Jackets player Gustav Nyquist (known most for his days with the Detroit Red Wings.). Anderson Farms had sent their mare Pearl Turn to the court of Nyquist and along came a slick by colt that had all the looks.
Although he did not meet his $295,000 (U.S.) reserve at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky yearling fall sale, Getzky the Great was sold in a private sale to movie mogul Gary Barber, who avidly watched the L.A. Kings when Gretzky (the hockey player) worked his magic with a puck. He owns him along with L.A. lawyer Aron Wellman’s Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. Barber gave the colt his name.
Later, Gretzky the Great’s half-brother sold for $560,000 (U.S.) His name? Robitaille, after the L.A. Kings player who retired after becoming the highest scoring left-winger in NHL history.
Gretzky the Great (the horse) was impressive enough last year that he was chosen Canada’s top 2-year-old colt, especially after winning the Grade 1 Summer Stakes at Woodbine, then finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
He’s had some stutter steps this season, suffering a quarter crack that has hobbled his efforts to get to the Queen’s Plate. He did finish third in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, his first start of the year, getting ready for perhaps a Kentucky Derby trail and showing a lot of gameness. In this race, he was shifting from turf to Tapeta, the surface on which the Queen’s Plate is run. Turf had been his footing of choice until this season.
He came back on the Tapeta at Turfway in the $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (which was more heavily weighted as a Kentucky Derby prep than ever before), set the pace as usual, pressured by another horse and faded to fifth. That was on March 27.
So on Saturday at Woodbine, Gretzky the Great was racing for the first time in 4 ½ months in the $143,000 Greenwood Stakes at seven furlongs on the turf. He lived up to his billing, by the way he won, refusing to let two relentless opponents get by him in the stretch.
Ridden by Woodbine leading rider Kazuchi Kimura, who had been aboard him in all of his Woodbine starts last year, Gretzky the Great headed to the front early, but so did Red River Rival, a 13 to 1 shot, directly to Gretzky’s inside. Eventually, Red River Rebel edged out a lead, with Gretzky the Great on his flank through sparkling fractions of 22.56 for the quarter and 45.02 for the half. Around the final turn, they raced together as a team, and as Gretzky the Great pulled ahead, he was already being challenged by horses on the outside.
Chief among them was the grey County Final, a $475,000 yearling purchase from the Steve Asmussen stable, who challenged after sitting just behind the pacesetters.
Artie’s Storm , a 3 to 1 shot that had been second to Tio Magico in the Queenston Stakes, and who had won his most recent start, charged four-wide around horses on the final turn and then engaged the top two in a nail-biting stretch battle to the finish. Artie’s Storm bore in late in the stretch and made life rather crowded for his opponents.
Gretzky the Great, the 7 to 5 favourite, won by a neck over County Final, who was a scant nose in front of Artie’s Storm.
The winner finished the seven furlongs in a swift 1:20.10.
Gretzky the Great is a special horse to Kazushi: he won a Grade 1 with him last year, and this is his fourth win with the colt. Gretzky the Great also gave him his third win of the day at Woodbine.
“At the top of the stretch, I already saw two horses from the outside,” Kazushi said. “Actually, I said: ‘Oh, he’s not today,’ but he had extra passion.
“When I asked him, so many times, he [kept] coming back and just keeping a head to them. He just had this extra passion.”
He will, says Kazushi, be a nice horse for him.