Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson wishes he was preparing to play hockey this weekend but will settle for being in Kentucky watching the horse he helped name as the favorite at the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Champion horse owner J. Paul Reddam has pushed Johnson into the racing game, and they will be at Churchill Downs on Saturday watching Reddam's undefeated horse Nyquist at the Kentucky Derby.
"Paul has been my mentor in the horse racing game, and he invited me to be out here," Johnson said. "I totally wish we were still playing and in the playoffs, but I'm happy to be Paul's guest this weekend."
Nyquist is named after Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist. Reddam, a Windsor, Ontario native, has been a Red Wings fan since childhood and has named eight horses after current or former Detroit players.
But it was Johnson who inspired Reddam to give Nyquist his name. The two were on the golf course discussing hockey.
"I was kidding Erik that he should come play for the Wings, and he said he'd never play for them," Reddam told KentuckyDerby.com. "So I said I would name the next couple of horses after Red Wings to bug him."
The next such horse was Nyquist, who Reddam bought last year. The horse has won all seven races he has started and enters the Kentucky Derby as the morning-line favorite at 3-1.
"It's pretty cool how the horse has turned into the favorite for the Derby," Johnson said.
Johnson is a minority owner of a few of Reddam's horses, including one called Where's the D that also is a jab at Johnson. The Avalanche defenseman started getting involved in racing two years ago.
Saturday will be Johnson's second trip to the Kentucky Derby. He was in attendance last year watching American Pharoah win and got to take a picture with the horse after the race.
Johnson was good luck for American Pharoah last year but admitted he has not watched Nyquist race live. Reddam has joked that Johnson's presence could be a bad omen.
"They said I might throw some cold water on his streak," Johnson said.
Gustav Nyquist will not be in Kentucky this weekend. The Red Wings forward left for Russia on Wednesday to compete for Sweden at the 2016 IIHF World Championship.