My observations on harness race horse names the other day got me thinking...
In 2006, former $5,000 claimer Stringtown Wonder won 12 races for owner/trainer Robert Seeger, and thus earned his title as Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA) Horse of the Year. I remember him fondly as that was the first year I spent a substantial amount of time at the now-defunct OTB facility Penn National operated here in Johnstown. There was never a more sure bet to be made that year.
On Tuesday at Philadelphia Park, now 7-year-old Stringtown Wonder finished second in a field of 12—in for $16,000 tag, but left unclaimed from Seeger. The winner had one of those ridiculous run-on names, Ok Nothanksforaskn (a multiple G3-placed son of Thunder Gulch), but the last place horse really caught by attention, Discombobulated. Who would think of naming a son of Awesome Again, out of the Jeblar mare Jeb, Discombobulated (“thrown into confusion”)?
What exactly is in a name? How do breeders and owners go about naming horses? Is there such as thing as a horse naming specialist?—because if there is, I’d make a career change in a heartbeat. Hell, I couldn’t do worse than some of the unimaginative drivel out there.
Another example on Tuesday’s Philadelphia card: race 4 featured a 52-1 longshot victor ($106.60 win) and 49-1 runner-up ($43.00 place) which paid a smashing $3,510.20 exacta. The winner: Claim Me Please (Hennessy, out of the Deputy Minister mare Icanseeyounow). Now, I don’t claim to be a horse psychologist, but if you were a horse, wouldn’t you tend to become an underachiever if tagged a claimer from birth—and a pathetic one at that, imploring to be claimed? Fortunately, Claim Me Please won one for the misnamed underdogs this day...
And while I’m ranting...it’s also a pet peeve when owners name horses in a distinctive way after themselves. They may think it’s cute, but it’s not—it’s annoying, particularly as these horses have to go through life with these horrible names, even with different owners. How big does one’s ego have to be to do this, or, conversely, how lacking in imagination? The Zayats’ nasty habit of naming horses Z this and Z that is bad enough, but how many Karakorum rejects do we need? It smacks of commercial branding, perceiving of horses as personal or corporate commodities which they, in actuality, may be, but do we have to be crass enough to not conceal that?
I understand naming is contextual at times, and can appreciate those who apply finesse to the process. For example, I was looking at upcoming race 5 at Hollywood this Friday, a maiden claimer for 2-year-olds. On the surface, Dontmesroundwitjim looks like a stupid name for a horse by Atticus, out of the Corwyn Bay mare Saboteur. Wouldn’t a cooler, more appropriate name be French Resistance? However, when you find out that Dontmesroundwitjim is a half-brother to stakes-winner Big Bad Leroybrown...NOW, it makes sense. Brilliant!
In that same race, though, there is also entered Afleet Magic (Northern Afleet, out of Al Mamoon mare Deep Blue Skies). I understand the obsessive adoption of Afleet (everywhere, it seems these days), but Afleet Magic? Where’s the connection? Wouldn’t a lovelier name be Northern Skies?
Begging Shakespeare's pardon, but I'm not convinced "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Something is rotten in the state of horse racing, and good marketers tell you, "Perception is everything." Will better naming horses revolutionize what’s wrong in the sport? Hardily. However, it could result in a little less ridicule hurled in our direction.