Chasing Down the Derby
What’s in a Name?
When evaluating a racehorse, there are plenty of factors to consider, including its name.
There’s no end to the strategizing involved in Thoroughbred ownership, and that extends to naming horses. “Different owners have their own taste or philosophy when it comes to naming, and a good number will tell you that they’ll spend an enormous amount of time and thought on it,” says Rick Bailey, the registrar at the Jockey Club (www.jockeyclub.com), the organization that manages (and approves) the names of every Thoroughbred racehorse.
New owners looking to name a horse for the first time will quickly learn that there’s room for creativity, but there are also strictures to the process. The Jockey Club’s rule book lists 17 criteria by which a proposed name will be rejected. These include names longer than 18 characters, names that end in common horse-related terms such as “filly” or “colt,” and names that are “suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning.” There’s also a list of more than 9,800 permanent names that have been retired from use, due to a previous horse’s noteworthy success (either as a racer or a breeder) under that name. There will never be another Man o’ War or Secretariat, for example.
It is a common practice, however, for many owners to choose names for their new foals that cleverly refer to older horses in their pedigree. Alittleoffthetop, for example, was sired by Skimming, Prenup was born to Homewrecker, War Admiral benefited from Man o’ War’s genes, and Secretariats Way, well . . . there’s not much mystery there.
At the time this issue went to press, a number of this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders boasted names with similar references to their strong-running predecessors. Tapiture, for example, was sired by Tapit—a sought-after stallion with connections to A.P. Indy (the 1992 Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner) and Triple Crown winner Secretariat. Then there’s Ride On Curlin, who is not-so-subtly named after his father, Curlin, the 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year. On his mother’s side, the colt is connected to Northern Dancer—winner of the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes—and Storm Cat, a stallion whose progeny have earned more than $128 million. Finally, there’s Smarty’s Echo, a colt with an impressive pedigree thanks to his father, Smarty Jones, who won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 2004.
It’s conceivable that any one of these three horses could win the Derby, provided they qualify. The one with the best odds? The answer to that question could be found in their pedigrees, but at least for these three racehorses, all you really need to know are their names.