Gretzky Namesake The Great One Being Pointed Toward March 6 San Felipe


The exclamations were still relevant at Santa Anita on Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after The Great One demolished a field of maidens with a 14-length triumph in Saturday’s second race, a one-mile event at the Arcadia, Calif., track that likely will lead to the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 6.

Doug O’Neill plans to “monitor the colt and then huddle up with the boys (owners)” before making a decision

“That’s probably the logical spot right now,” said O’Neill, who trains the Louisiana-bred son of his 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist for an ownership group that includes the Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson’s ERJ Racing, LLC, thus the colt’s name.

“Erik named him for Wayne Gretzky, one of Eric’s idols growing up,” O’Neill said, clarifying that the $185,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales purchase was not named after the late Jackie Gleason, a multi-talented actor, comedian, writer, composer and conductor deservingly known affectionately as “The Great One.”

“Erik and Wayne are friends,” O’Neill added, “so it’s pretty cool.”

Gretzky, lest we forget, holds a host of hockey records that would fill a goalie’s net, and is not only considered by many the greatest hockey player of all-time, but in some quarters, the greatest athlete of all time, justifying his nickname, “The Great One.”

Gretzky, who turns 60 on Monday, Jan. 25,  spent the majority of his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings. His next shot on goal was always a high priority as he adhered to the credo, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

Even O’Neill was surprised by the ease with which The Great One broke his maiden.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “You never figure on winning like that. Your main focus is just trying to get him to the wire first. You never figure they’re going to win by 14, although he had been training really, really well. Each race had been better than the previous one.

“Since we added blinkers (last Nov. 29), he’s really focused. It’s very exciting and hopefully we’ll have more fun down the road.”

Triple Crown temptation continues for Team O’Neill this Saturday when two other precocious 3-year-olds run in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Hot Rod Charlie and impressive maiden winner Wipe the Slate.

Stay tuned.

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