For the handful of Thoroughbred horse-racing fans not following the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship currently underway in Russia -- and I know you're out there -- it should be of more than passing interest that through preliminary-round play last Sunday, Gustav Nyquist was the leading goal scorer of the tournament, and that his Swedish national team was sitting second in the Group A standings with one game left to play, which assured them of a place among the final eight in the knockout round commencing Thursday in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
It's probably easier to cheer on Nyquist when he's skating for the Red Wings, which is why Paul Reddam named his horse for the hockey player in the first place, Detroit being Reddam's old-school team of choice from his formative years in Ontario. But the Red Wings were knocked out in the first round of the NHL playoffs by a team from Florida, of all places, which allowed the 26-year-old Nyquist to suit up for his homeland in the World Championship while the 3-year-old Nyquist works his way through the Triple Crown.
"I'm in partnership with some horses with Erik Johnson, who plays for the Colorado Avalanche," Reddam said last summer, shortly after Nyquist won the Del Mar Futurity. "I named the colt just to annoy him, although whenever Nyquist's name comes up, Erik will say, 'I scored on him, you know.'"
There seems to be a natural inclination to favor famous athletes when brainstorming horse names. The intersection of sporting orbits is as old as the hills, and if the horse lives up to its name, it can be a PR dream for racing.
So, owners roll the dice and grab a name from the top shelf, because who wouldn't want to follow a racehorse named Babe Ruth (a son of Unbridled), Ayrton Senna (out of the mare Antifreeze), or Ben Hogan, a New Zealand gelding who won eight of 81 starts?
There is no record of Pete Rose ever meeting -- or betting on -- the Thoroughbred named Pete Rose, a foal of 1968. Likewise, there is no evidence that Jack Dempsey the fighter ever met Jack Dempsey the racehorse, a foal of 1925 who won two of 51 starts.
There is, however, archival video of Dempsey with Man o' War in October 1920 at Rose Tree Hunt Club in Media, Pa., near the home of Man o' War's owner, Samuel D. Riddle. Man o' War, just eight days removed from his victory over Sir Barton in their match race, is frisky and full of beans posing alongside the heavyweight champ, himself fresh from his first title defense in September against Billy Miske.
Let the record show that Dempsey gives Man o' War all the room he needs but doesn't flinch.
Chris Evert, a daughter of Swoon's Son, was foaled in 1971, the same year that Chris Evert, a 16-year-old tennis phenom, made her grand-slam debut in the U.S. Open.
The filly Chris Evert got her name from owner Carl Rosen, whose Puritan clothing company had a line of tennis wear endorsed by the other Chris Evert. In 1974, when Chris Evert won the New York Racing Association triple crown for fillies by sweeping the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks, her namesake rose to the top of the world tennis rankings with victories in the French Open and at Wimbledon. Two weeks after winning in England, Chris Evert appeared at Hollywood Park to watch Chris Evert defeat Miss Musket in their lopsided match race, bringing along her boyfriend, Jimmy Connors, for the ride.
Dimaggio, a foal of 1972, was a stakes-winning son of Bold Hitter named by diehard Yankees fan John Valpredo, a California farmer who built a vegetable empire in the Central Valley. His son Don Valpredo carried on the family business in both agriculture and Thoroughbreds.
"We'd listen to the Yankee games on radio all the time growing up," Don Valpredo said. "My dad would go back to the World Series every year the Yankees were in it, which seemed like about every year, and as far as he was concerned, Joe DiMaggio was the greatest hitter he'd ever seen."
DiMaggio was also a regular at the racetrack, especially Bay Meadows near his San Francisco home.
"My dad never got to meet DiMaggio," Valpredo said. "But I did one day at Bay Meadows. He was a very private man but very kind, and he was aware of the horse we named for him. The photo we took together is one of my great treasures."
If all goes well this week, Gustav Nyquist and his Swedes will be playing in one of the semifinal games of the IIHF tournament in Moscow's Ice Palace on Saturday, the same day Reddam's Nyquist will try to add the 141st Preakness Stakes to his victory in the 142nd Kentucky Derby. The race will go off at around 1 a.m. Sunday, Moscow time.
Hockey's Nyquist has yet to meet racing's Nyquist in the flesh, but he is in good company. Forty-two years ago at Hollywood Park, William Johnson of Sports Illustrated asked Chris Evert what she thought about the match-race experience.
"Well, I can't compare it to Wimbledon," she told Johnson. "I guess I can't really compare it to anything because it's the first race I've ever been to."