Gretzky the Great aims to bounce back like his namesake

Profile Picture: Nicolle Neulist

March 26th, 2021

Ontario-bred Gretzky the Great, who will return in Saturday's Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park, takes his name from his country's most iconic sports hero.

Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, hardly needs introduction.

In a 20-season NHL career, Gretzky won the Hart Trophy (league MVP) nine times, including eight consecutive years, from 1980-1987. He won the Art Ross Trophy (most points) 10 times. His career tallies for regular-season goals (894), assists (1,963), and points (2,857) tower over the most durable greats of professional hockey. 

Naming a horse after a professional athlete brings expectations. Naming a horse after such a dominant star sounds like a declaration by owners Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber that he will become at least a Grade 1 winner, if not an enduring force.

Gretzky the Great's sire, Nyquist, was a precocious two-year-old. He won on debut and became a Grade 1 winner in just his third start.

Though Gretzky the Great, a Mark Casse trainee, could not match his sire's feat on debut, he soon justified his connections' faith. Three weeks later, he looked as dominant as his namesake did in any hockey game. Even though his race was washed off the turf to the Woodbine Tapeta, he shot to the lead, broke away from the competition into the lane, and won by 4 1/2 lengths.

Next out, in the Soaring Free S., he had a rematch with Ready to Repeat, the horse who beat him on debut. Gretzky the Great was ready this time. He stalked the pace, fought down the lane, and got up over the pacesetter to win. Not only did he get the jump on the horse who beat him earlier in the year — Ready to Repeat could only rally for third — Gretzky the Great became his sire's first stakes winner.

On Sept. 20, he lined up in the Summer (G1) at Woodbine. Things looked a little different than in the Soaring Free. In the Summer, his old foe Ready to Repeat was on the lead, just as he was in the maiden race. But Gretzky the Great stalked, made his run into the stretch, took over midstretch, and galloped to Grade 1 glory by 3 1/4 lengths.

Even with that triumph under his girth, though, Gretzky the Great still has something to prove. His namesake was dominant through every level of hockey. Will Gretzky the Great be able to stay ahead of his contemporaries, too?

Gretzky the Great has had his bumps in the road since the Summer.

In range of Outadore and eventual winner Fire at Will early in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), he tired in the lane and could only manage a sixth-place finish. After a winter break, he returned Feb. 26 in the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park. Horseplayers bet him down to even money in a field of 11, but after he set a pressured pace, he was caught by a pair of horses who had run more recently.

Saturday's Jeff Ruby Steaks will give him a chance to get back on the right track. Perhaps he can draw some inspiration from his illustrious namesake. After all, as stratospheric as his career was, Wayne Gretzky still had to handle some setbacks. No matter what, Gretzky bounced back. If Gretzky the Great has that kind of resilience, don't count him out this Saturday or this year.