You can guarantee what horse Mark Messier will be rooting for in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby: Messier, the 3-year-old colt named after the Hockey Hall of Famer.
“It’s very flattering to have a great Canadian racehorse in the Kentucky Derby named after me,” Messier, now an NHL analyst with ESPN, told PlayNY through a network PR staffer.
“My family and I will be cheering Messier on.”
Messier, formerly trained by the embattled Bob Baffert, holds 8-1 Kentucky Derby betting odds to win the race at Churchill Downs. That’s the third-best odds of any horse in the field of 20, behind Zandon at 3-1 and Epicenter at 7-2.
How did Messier earn the iconic hockey player’s name?
So how did Messier get named after an NHL legend?
“We have some close hockey ties to my wife (Katie’s) family,” part-owner Tom Ryan told Sportsnet. “Her father is Pat Hughes and her uncle is Mark Napier and both played (and won the Stanley Cup) with Messier. A couple of years ago, I attended an Oilers’ reunion where her father and uncle were … and we got to spend time with members of (the) team in Edmonton.”
According to Ryan, the group spent some time together along with other great players from Messier’s era. Then, an idea sparked.
“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.”
From one Messier to another
Mark Messier, now 61, won six Stanley Cups and was named to 16 All-Star teams during his career.
He’s best known in the Big Apple for producing a hat trick in Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals after guaranteeing a Ranger victory over the rival Devils. New York went on to capture the Cup over Vancouver — still the Rangers’ last championship.
“When Messier is at his best, he’s very, very good,” PlayUSA’s Andrew Champagne said of Messier, the horse. “I think he’ll be a bit bigger of a price at post time than he is on the morning line, and I think there’s some value with this one.”