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Kentucky Derby Spotlight: Messier

2022 Kentucky Derby contender Messier, Santa Anita Park.
Messier by Ernie Belmonte. Photo used with permission.

There have only been two Kentucky Derby winners bred in Canada: Sunny’s Halo (1983) and Northern Dancer (1964). This year, Messier will look to become the third Canadian-bred to win the run for the roses.

Messier was bred in Ontario by Sam-Son Farm. He is by Empire Maker, a stallion who lived up to his name by siring horses like Pioneerof The Nile, who produced a multitude of good horses headlined by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and Bodemeister, who sired the 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. Messier is out of the stakes-winning Smart Strike mare Checkered Past.

Messier’s star-studded pedigree attracted SF Racing, Starlight Racing, and Madaket Stables at the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase in 2020; this partnership purchased him for $470k. He is named after Hall of Fame Hockey legend Mark Messier.

“We have some close hockey ties to my wife [Katie’s] family,” Tom Ryan, managing partner of SF Bloodstock/SF Racing LLC, explained to SportsNet. “Her father is Pat Hughes and her uncle is Mark Napier and both played [and won the Stanley Cup] with Messier.”

Messier began his career with trainer Bob Baffert. He finished 2nd in his debut at Los Alamitos and then broke his maiden four months later at Santa Anita with ease. Messier was next seen running down Forbidden Kingdom in the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) and then wrapped up his two-year-old season with a narrow 2nd place finish to Slow Down Andy in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2).

[Video: Watch Messier win the Bob Hope Stakes]

Messier began his three-year-old season with a dominant, breathtaking performance in the Robert B. Lewis (G3), crossing the wire 15 lengths ahead of his rivals. This win was enough to cement him as a top contender on the Kentucky Derby trail. Runners for Bob Baffert cannot run in the Kentucky Derby due to the trainer’s suspension, so Messier (along with other Baffert horses) transferred to the barn of trainer Tim Yakteen for their final Derby preps.

For Messier, this final prep was the Santa Anita Derby (G1). It looked as though Messier would win the race at the top of the stretch, but he was run down by his own stablemate Taiba and ultimately finished 2nd by 2 ¼ lengths.

A win for Messier in the Kentucky Derby wouldn’t be the first time a horse named after a Hockey player captured the big race. Nyquist, named for Gustav Nyquist, won the run for the roses in 2016.

Messier has drawn post #6 for the Kentucky Derby and has morning line odds of 8-1. He will be piloted by John R. Velazquez, who rode Derby winners Animal Kingdom (2011), Always Dreaming (2017), and Authentic (2020), and also crossed the wire first aboard Medina Spirit in 2021.

Will you be rooting for this Canadian-bred to win the Kentucky Derby?

[Video: Watch Messier won the Robert B. Lewis]


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