One of the leading contenders for this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, named for a Canadian sports icon, does have a Canadian connection – and also has a very good chance of being the third Canadian horse to win horse racing’s most prestigious award. Messier will be representing the Great White North this Saturday at the 148th Kentucky Derby.
Only two Canadian-breds have won the Kentucky Derby – Northern Dancer (1964) and Sunny’s Halo (1983).
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Messier: The Canadian Colt
The Milton, Ontario bred horse – named for former Oilers legend and six time Stanley Cup Champion Mark Messier – has been a consistent performer in his racing life, with him winning three of his six ever starts and coming in second in his three others.
Originally trained by legendary trainer Bob Baffert, the horse’s conditioning was given over to Tim Yakteen. Baffert’s suspension from Churchill Downs meant that any qualifying points that ought to accrue to Messier weren’t, after Baffert’s 2021 winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a steroid, betamethasone.
Jockeyed by the famous John Velazquez, who has rode across the line in four of the last 11 years (even if one of those wins ended up being retroactively taken away due to doping results), Messier comes from a prestigious line. The Colt is the son of Empire Maker, the winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes.
Saturday’s Derby will represent his first race in a field of more than six horses, which could complicate things, but his record, and that of his jockey, should be a source of optimism.
The 6 hole has been one of the more unlucky post positions in the Derby’s history with 8 second place finishes (tied for the most), but with only two winners. That said, 5 is the most successful historically, and 7 and 8 are also historically very successful. So even though Messier drew a hole with limited historical wins, he could have drawn much worse by being on either of the ends.
Messier is currently the third morning line favorite with 8/1 Kentucky Derby odds, behind Zandon in the 10 hole (3/1) and Epicenter running out of the 3 hole (7/2).
With Velazquez’s incredible recent form and Messier’s pedigree, there’s a clear case for Messier to become the third Canadian-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby. Northern Dancer in 1964 and Sunny’s Halo in 1983 were the other two Canadian-bred horses to have won at Churchill Downs.