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Mr. Hockey pulls for Howe Great

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Howe Great is the product of a Japanese-bred sire imported to Kentucky by Barry Irwin and matched with a South African-bred broodmare Ginger Sea. (Photo by Bob Coglianese)
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Every blue moon, a professional athlete inspires city, school or community leaders when dedicating a new building or re-naming a stretch of road or highway.

It’s not every day that a racehorse owner is inspired in quite the same way.

While it’s inevitably happened, it hasn’t happened in the case of Mr. Hockey – until now.

Howe Great, a three-year-old colt on the road to the Kentucky Derby, is named after Red Wings legend Gordie Howe.

Barry Irwin, CEO of Kentucky-based Team Valor International owns the horse, and came up with the name for the son of Hat Trick, a stallion that he purchased a few years ago. The stallion’s name also is a nod to the Gordie Howe hat trick – when a player gets a goal, an assist and gets into a fight in the same game.

The attraction to hockey all started after Irwin, a Californian who isn’t much of a hockey aficionado, purchased Hat Trick. Liking the name so much, he scoured Google looking for a hockey-themed moniker for the new colt.

That’s how Irwin learned details of Howe’s amazing career, which cover 32 pro seasons, including 25 with the Wings, where he won four Stanley Cup titles.

Gordie and his son, Marty Howe, met a Team Valor partner during a Las Vegas autograph show, which the hockey legend was appearing last year. It was then that Gordie first learned of the thoroughbred that carries his name.

“He liked the horse and thought he would make it to the Derby,” said Marty, of the chance encounter with the TVI employee.

Irwin and TVI certainly know something about the horseracing business. After all, they own Animal Kingdom, last year’s Kentucky Derby champion. And jockey John Velazquez, who rode Animal Kingdom to the crown at “the two most exciting minutes in sports”.

After winning the Palm Beach Stakes last Sunday, Howe Great moved into the latest Associated Press Run to the Roses Top 10 at No. 10. Deciding the Kentucky Derby field is a complicated system that basically comes down to major races and overall earnings. The last race was a major graded race which earned Howe Great $90,000.

There’s a slew of eligible horses remaining for the Derby field, but a first- or second-place showing in next month’s Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland will more than likely earn him $180,000-$200,000 land him at the Derby on May 5.

As for his thought on having a thoroughbred named in his honor, Gordie said in his typical whimsical way, “I’m OK with them naming him after me if he’s winning. It’s not OK if he’s coming in last place.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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