Greatest Thoroughbred Racehorse Names
I Want Revenge is one of the favorites for Saturday’s 135th Kentucky Derby. His name makes perfect sense and will go down in history if he can win the Run for the Roses. He is by the Thoroughbred stallion Stephen Got Even, out of the mare Meguial.
Revenge could be sweet as the winner's share of the Derby's purse is over $1.2 million.
Everybody Thinks They're Funny
Calumet farm owner J.T. Lundy found himself in bankruptcy court so a few years later he fired a shot at the judge with the horse named Judge Smells (pictured). He was a good enough horse to become a sire in his own right.
How proud he must have been with his offspring named Odor In The Court.
It's Not A Game
Some folks just like to beat the system. There is a very famous racehorse named Ghostzapper, and he obviously inspired the aspiring horse namer Robert Hillis.
Hillis asked for the name Nutzapper and was turned down by the Jockey Club. He explained to the registry poobahs that as a young boy in Canada, he loved to zap walnuts in boiling oil and sprinkle them on salads. Satisfied that the name had a tasty, not tasteless, origin, the Jockey Club approved Nutzapper.
Hillis, unable to contain his glee, told the Daily Racing Form, "I've never even been to Canada, I just made the whole thing up on the spot."
Then, they unapproved it.
Win some, lose some.
Everybody Loves a Wise Guy
This 2003 Derby contender was a track announcer's dream. In addition to being a condensed version of "That's What I'm Talking About," this son of A.P. Indy and grandson of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew had Hollywood connections including Steven Spielberg, Gary Ross and Frank Ross.
Some Names Are Just Fun to Say
Go ahead say the name of the 2004 Kentucky Derby winner—three times really fast.
The Irish accent is optional, but you gotta admit, it makes it better.
WWPHD: What Would Perez Hilton Do?
In order to name your horse after a famous person you have to have permission. The Jockey Club once got a letter on White House stationary giving the OK for an equine to bear the moniker Barbara Bush.
Of course, should you not be in a position to inquire of said famous person, you can skirt the rules with a minor change. For example, the stakes winning filly Oprah Winney (pictured) is clearly named after Oprah.
Then there’s Capote, Harry Potter, Chris Everet, Stevie Wonderboy, Cojack, Stackhouse, Gee Dubbya, Lewinsky, Hello Newman, and zillions of others…
The Evil Genius Of Seymour Cohen
Cohen always was trying to slip things by the Registrar at the Jockey Club. The Registrar job is to make sure that nobody names a horse something obscene, distasteful or stupid. Obviously, it’s not as easy a job as it once was with 350,000 names in use for Thoroughbred racehorses.
But, Cohen was clever, and some of his better efforts turned out to be fillies who grew up to be pretty good racehorses (thus adding to the Jockey Club’s exasperation). They would be Buzz My Bell, Scorched Panties, Cunning Stunt and the ever popular Bodacious Tatas.
Marshall Cassidy, the track announcer at Belmont Park and Saratoga, refused to play along with the term made famous in the movie An Officer And A Gentleman always pronouncing Tatas with long a’s for both vowels as in Tay-Tays.
The Name Game
Many owners and breeders of Thoroughbreds use the horses parents names to eventually name the offspring. Different folks do this for different reasons. Some have so many horses that the combo name helps them keep it all straight. For example, injured Derby contender Quality Road is by Elusive Quality and his dam is sired by Strawberry Road.
Other breeders just did it to see what kind of cool name they could come up with, and everybody’s all time favorite remains Native Dancer (pictured) who is by Polynesian out of Geisha. T
his is the same line that got now prominent Mr. Prospector who is by Raise A Native out of Gold Digger.
The Fixx: One Thing Leads To Another
One quick look at the pedigree of the stakes winner (he won the Man O’ War stakes) and stallion Effervescing and you can see two obvious patterns.
His Grandmother’s name is Striking. His aunts and uncles are Hitting Away, Batter Up and Bases Full (all stakes winners).
His mom’s name was Sparkling and his sister’s name is Bubbling.
One Word Names
In the old days many of the great ones had one word names – very powerful. There were the Triple Crown winners Assault, Citation and Whirlaway for starters.
And more great ones like Eclipse, Hyperion, Doncaster, Lexington, and Nearco.
Back when it all began the stallions had names, but the mares didn’t. Joe Smith’s mare was known as Joe Smith Mare or Joe Smith Mare A.
Then they got the wise idea to start naming all Thoroughbreds. They quickly ran through all of the short, easy to remember names like Orphan, Shy, Romance, Buzzard, Crab, Fish, Flea, Fox, Serpent, Shark, Slug (hey, you can’t make this stuff up), Snail (even worse!), Snake, Spider, Vixen, Gimcrack, Nettle, Camel, Alarm and Whalebone to name a few.
You still see some good one including two top geldings from the sixties and seventies Kelso and Forego, and, of course, Cigar more recently.
Of course in the old days, owners and breeders of racehorses like regal names. At the head of the class are Man O’ War, War Admiral, Iron Liege, Whirlaway, and Count Fleet to name a few.
Now days, it’s a bit harder to really nail a great name since there are so many names in use—over 350,000 according to some sources. But now and again, somebody get it just right like recent Belmont Stakes winners Rags To Riches (pictured), and Victory Gallop.
Nothing Against The Critters
Save Wild Life.
That’s correct, it’s not Save Wildlife, it’s Save Wild Life like the Talking Heads song Wild, Wild Life. This filly by Quack, out of Save won $347,323 at the races including five stakes races in California.
Her name still turns up in Thoroughbred pedigrees today.
That, of course, would be Virginia-bred and owned Secretariat. He has the best name because he was the best racehorse of all time.
By Bold Ruler, out of the mare Somethingroyal, Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973 ending what now looks like a 25 year drought. In doing so, he established himself as the only horse that could look Man O’ War square in the bridle.
Big Red was named by his breeder’s (Christopher Chenery the master of Meadow Stud in Doswell, Caroline County, VA) personal assistant, Elizabeth Hamm (back then they were called a secretary).
And The Winner Is...
Before there was Upset, upset wasn’t a word used as we use it today meaning a victory by an underdog over a favorite. Back in the early 20th century, upset meant you were angry, aggravated or agitated, etc.
So, when the name of a horse changes the English language and sports journalism, you’ve got a winner.
In the history of American racing, two horses stand clearly above the rest—Man o' War and Secretariat. Man o' War was a magnificent physical specimen and he dominated racing in his Man O’ War lost exactly one race in his illustrious career.
In the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes at Saratoga, an error by his jockey (or the starter, depending on who you talk to) had Man o' War’s back turned to the starting line (this was the pre-starting gate era). By the time he had turned around, the field was long gone, but Man O’ War rallied charging down the stretch. He wound up being a half-length short finishing second.
The victor? That would be Upset.
Interestingly, the other Big Red, Secretariat was also upset in a big stakes race at Saratoga. The Triple Crown winner would lose the Whitney Stakes to a horse named appropriately enough Onion.