The names given race horses have always interested me. As a pedigree aficionado, I particularly appreciate the witty twist of a well-named horse, but also admire those with compelling stories behind them. And then there are those poor unfortunate beasts with overly-witty, jaw droppingly-inappropriate, or just plain stupid names. You know the ones. What a great job it would be to just sit around thinking up perfect names!
In a recent DRF article, Bill Christine listed his top 5 best and worst names of Kentucky Derby winners, and, I don’t know...I was underwhelmed by his choices. I know beauty is subjective, but Pensive is one of the worst? Really? As a word, it strikes me as quite lovely and sophisticated. I think I can do better, so here are my best and worst lists, in chronological order:
1. War Emblem (2002)
A kick-ass name! By Personal Ensign’s son Our Emblem out of the Lord at War mare Sweetest Lady, War Emblem is the perfect merging of sire and damline names. Regal, powerful—and could have been a Triple Crown winner.
2. Winning Colors (1988)
Cleverly tied to her dam All Rainbows, the name Winning Colors also references a common horse racing term. Bingo!
3. Dark Star (1953)
At 25-1, Dark Star upset favorite Native Dancer by a head, handing the Polynesian-Geisha colt his only career loss in 22 races. Contrasted with the Grey Ghost—who John Eisenberg dubbed in his book on Native Dancer a “hero of a golden age”—how could it not be horse named Dark Star that ends up the anti-hero?
4. Whirlaway (1941)
A play on the name of his dam Dustwhirl, Whirlaway is a perfect name for such an unpredictable runner.
5. Exterminator (1918)
I know this name isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s powerful in a kick-ass kind of way. Terminator might have been even better, but it will do.
1. Behave Yourself (1921)
A little naughty, his name obviously follows into the familiar pattern of names given to the progeny of his dam Miss Ringlets—Bobbed Hair, Blushing Beauty, Bushy Head and Brown Eyed Kate. Aren’t they just adorable? Gag.
2. Clyde Van Dusen (1929)
A son of Man O’War named Clyde? It’s just sad that this poor little gelding shared his name with his trainer. Could you imagine a horse name Bob Baffert winning the Derby—or Dick Dutrow? Ugh!
3. Hoop Jr. (1945)
Okay, so the owner Fred Hooper named him for his son. But Hoop? Come on! The poor horse had a regal-sounding sire (Sir Gallahad), so they couldn’t come up with a better name than Hoop?
4. Go for Gin (1994)
Why not just call him “Go Fish” or “Uno”? Silly name. Now Checkmate would have been better.
5. Big Brown (2008)
Let’s start with brown, one of the dullest and most boring of colors. When you merge it with “big” in connection with a horse, my first thought is a big old pile of manure. Then when you realize the gross commercialization of his name—which achieved its purpose in drawing UPS sponsorship—it’s just plain revolting. Hands down, the worst Derby name winner.
Okay, so who do you, dear readers, think qualifies as the best and worst names?
(As an aside, I wonder if Bill Christine's piece was inspired by this recent article? Shamelessly, I've appropriated its title.)