Nyquist has been to 33 of the last 36 Preaknesses. He'll make it 34 of 37 Saturday. He's even been to several runnings of the Belmont Stakes to try (and usually fail) to see history - Big Brown let him down; American Pharoah came through. Nyquist went to a few Breeders' Cups at Santa Anita and was at Keeneland for Thoroughbred racing's championship day last year.
Nyquist . . . oh, wait. No, not that Nyquist. This is George Nyquist, of Towson, whose father George Sr. and mother Anne Marie started Nyquist, Inc. in a garage on Cresmont Avenue near Johns Hopkins University in 1955. Today, the automotive paint supplier is overseen by their son George Jr. (the Nyquist mentioned above) and has locations in Baltimore, Salisbury, Millersville and Westminster in Maryland plus a fifth base in Hampton, Va. Nyquist, Inc. sells paint and paint products to body shops, dealerships, sign companies and small manufacturers. The company, now headquartered on West 34th Street in Baltimore, has a sign at the Orioles stadium trumpeting 60 years in the city.
And now it shares its name with a world-class Thoroughbred.
Like many in Baltimore, George Jr. grew up going to the Pimlico infield on Preakness Day. He moved over the grandstand, traded in the beer for Black-Eyed Susans and become a racing fan. And boy is he paying attention this year. Nyquist, of course, shares his name with the undefeated Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite. George was at Churchill Downs for the Derby and will fly back from business meetings in California in time for Saturday's Preakness.
"It's kind of a coincidence and has a special meaning to me now," he said Tuesday. "I decided if I was ever going to go to the Derby, this was the year. I told everyone at these meetings that I was going back to Maryland. I've got a ticket going back Friday afternoon. I'll be there."
It's somewhat of a vicarious connection, as George has never been closer to Nyquist than watching him gallop past on the racetrack, but it matters thanks to a moment shared with his mother last fall.
After last year's Preakness, George got swept up in the American Pharoah storm. He paid "stupid money" for a ticket on the finish line at Belmont as the horse became racing's 12th Triple Crown winner. In the glow of that signature moment, George vowed to watch American Pharoah, in person, again and bought tickets to the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland.
Anne Marie Nyquist had been diagnosed with lung cancer in the spring but was stable and relatively healthy when George ordered his tickets. By fall, her condition had worsened and George was frequently in Florida with her. A Breeders' Cup trip was doubtful, until Nyquist's cousin (Maryland horsewoman Laura Delozier - George's only direct connection to racing) volunteered to help care for Anne Marie.
Until then, George Nyquist had never heard of Nyquist the horse - named for Detroit Red Wings player Gustav Nyquist. It took a call from a friend with the question, "Do you realize there's a horse named Nyquist running on Breeders' Cup Day?"
The unbeaten 2-year-old was favored for the Juvenile and, of course, won by a half-length with his namesake cheering every stride. George bought a souvenir win ticket on the horse, and taped it to his mother's bedroom mirror in Florida so she could see it every day.
"You should have seen the smile on her face, it was incredible," George wrote in an email to trainer Doug O'Neill this winter. "I saw her look at it many times and watched that little spark in her eyes. Though inadvertently, you and your horse brought some joy into a very difficult period."
Anne Marie Nyquist died a month after the Breeders' Cup. She was 92. George taped the win ticket to his mirror in Maryland.