LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Approximately 12 hours before Nyquist and trainer Doug O'Neill were to chase Thoroughbred racing's Holy Grail -- the Kentucky Derby -- they posed with the most coveted trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup.
At about 6:50 a.m. Saturday, on the backside of Churchill Downs, O'Neill brought Nyquist -- the expected favorite for Saturday afternoon's 142nd Kentucky Derby -- out of his stall and over to the Stanley Cup, which was perched on a covered feed bucket. A curious Nyquist stuck his tongue out as if he were looking for water and took a peek into the bowl of the cup. After a couple of photos were taken, O'Neill led Nyquist back to his stall, where he was to rest for his attempted date with destiny.
The Cup was brought to Churchill Downs by its handler, who travels with it throughout the year. Nyquist, undefeated in all seven career starts and the 2-year-old male champion of 2015, was named in honor of Gustav Nyquist, a right winger for the NHL's Detroit Red Wings. Paul Reddam, the owner of Nyquist, is a big Red Wings fan.
"You look at that, it gives you goose bumps," O'Neill said. "The amazing athletes and hockey players that have been involved with that and skated around the ice with it. Being born in Michigan, that is like the Holy Grail."
When a team wins the Stanley Cup, each team member gets a day with it. O'Neill was asked what he would do if given the opportunity to have the Cup for a day.
"I would take it to a lot of cool places, that's for sure," O'Neill said. "If that Cup could talk, the stories it could tell. That thing has probably been to some of the wackiest places around."
Nyquist, the hockey player, would not be at the Derby. His Red Wings got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, and Nyquist is in St. Petersburg, Russia, where on Friday he scored an overtime goal to help his native Sweden beat Latvia 2-1 in a preliminary-round game in the world championships.
Meanwhile, O'Neill seemed very relaxed for a trainer who is running the favorite in the world's most famous horse race. Nyquist simply walked the shed row Saturday morning.
"We were real excited when we got here, he had a real bright eye on him, ate up everything from the night before, just good energy," O'Neill said. "His legs looked super, so we're all feeling good today.
"If you're horse is doing good, you're doing good."