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(Reuters) - Kentucky Derby favorite Nyquist will get to drink from the NHL's coveted Stanley Cup on Saturday before he sets off on his bid to win racing's symbol of excellence in the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
Nyquist, whose hockey-mad owner J. Paul Reddam named him after the gifted Swedish forward who plays for the Detroit Red Wings, is the 3-1 early choice in the 1-1/4 mile test among 3-year-old thoroughbreds after winning his first seven races.
"Nyquist is named after Gustav Nyquist, one of the great Red Wings," Reddam, a Canadian businessman who grew up in Windsor, Ontario across the Detroit River, told reporters at Churchill Downs on Thursday. "I've been a fan of that team since I was about five."
Reddam said the naming came about after a playful exchange with another NHL player, Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, with whom Reddam has partnered in buying some horses.
"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," said the owner, who is now based in Southern California.
"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."
Reddam invited hockey's Nyquist, whose Red Wings were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs two weeks ago, to the Derby but he is with Sweden's team in Russia for the world championships starting on Friday.
Racing's Nyquist will get a special treat in his barn early on Saturday before he begins his quest to accept the garland of 400 red roses bestowed on the winner of the opening leg of U.S. racing's Triple Crown.
"How cool is that?" Nyquist trainer Doug O'Neill told the Los Angeles Times. "The human Nyquist won't get to skate around with the Cup this year, but the equine Nyquist gets two white-gloved guards bringing him the Cup to drink from. Life is good."
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue