Bertram and Diana Firestone’s 1978 yearling purchase of a chestnut Exclusive Native filly upon the recommendation of their young son Matthew was an aptly-named Genuine Risk, one that paid off in spades as racing fans well know. Having re-read that story recently while researching a piece on 1940s-era filly Carolyn A., I began to wonder about the role children and adolescents have had on not just the selection, but also naming of racing horses over the years.
Honoring the children of jockeys and trainers by naming horses after them could certainly be a risking proposition, not only because the horse could end up a total flop, but also what happens when owners decide to change trainers or jocks? Or if the jock himself decides the namesake isn’t the right mount? It happened with the aforementioned Carolyn A., named for jockey Eddie Arcaro’s young daughter. As a juvenile, Arcaro guided her to victory in the Demoiselle, but at three, even after jockey Ronnie Nash rode her to victory in the Louisiana Derby, Arcaro skipped the opportunity to ride his daughter’s namesake in the Wood Memorial—and defeated her with his mount Phalanx. Arcaro also didn’t ride her (by choice) in some of her best performances—include a win over Gallorette in the Firenze—but he was aboard when she defeated Miss Grillo in the Diana, the final victory of her career.
Who can forget on the Animal Planet series “Jockeys” when Joe Talamo teased Aaron Gryder about winning aboard owner-trainer Roger Stein’s filly Grace Gryder, named for Aaron’s daughter? As a commenter noted on Turf Luck’s blog two years ago, it was actually Gryder who refused to ride his daughter’s namesake after finding her “slow” in morning workouts. He never rode her in 24 lifetime starts (mostly in the claiming ranks), and she only won that one time.
Veering from his typical “Z” naming practice, owner Ahmed Zayat christened his Harlan’s Holiday colt Riley Tucker after trainer Bill Mott’s son, and the horse not only was G2-placed as a juvenile, but a G1 runner-up at age 5. He never raced in the Kentucky Derby, but that race actually has a bit of history with victors named for trainers (such as 1929 winner Clyde Van Dusen) and the children of owners, such as 1945 winner Hoop Jr., who was christened by owner Fred W. Hooper after his youngest son Fred Jr. How extraordinary to win the Derby with the very first race horse you purchase as Hooper did—and one named after a child! Likewise, Robert F. Roberts named his 1966 Traffic Judge colt after his son—and Traffic Mark not only won the Arkansas Derby and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, but his son Honey Mark (also named for the same Roberts child) captured the 1975 American Derby and finished second behind Master Derby in the Blue Grass Stakes.
It begs the question: is it good karma to name a horse after a child? As a point of interest, the only two filly winners of the Haskell share a “child” connection, with Rachel Alexandra named for breeder-owner Dolphus Morrison’s granddaughter, while 1995 winner Serena’s Song only coincidentally shared a bond with Serena Waldman, a young cerebral palsy-stricken girl whose parents created a wheelchair accessible hot air balloon called “Serena’s Song” (Robert and Beverly Lewis sponsored the Waldmans’ balloon during their filly’s championship campaign, including at Monmouth before the running of the Haskell). Similarly, Afleet Alex—named for several children among his owners named Alex—became associated with Alex Scott, a pediatric cancer victim whose lemonade stand charity became synonymous with the Preakness and Belmont winner.
Think I’m kidding about this theory? How about the example of Miss Laurie Bale, a 1975 Great Sun-Vicki’s Choice filly named for a young Omaha girl with muscular dystrophy, who won four of nine career starts including the open company Ak-Sar-Ben Breeders Sprint by 7-1/2 lengths?
Sometimes the naming practice works in reverse. In 2010, a few days before he won the Indian Derby aboard the filly Jacqueline, jockey Richard Hughes and his wife named their new daughter Phoebe Jacqueline. Any one want to wager what name Calvin Borel and his wife Lisa must bestow upon any girl child they bear?
So, I'm curious. What other noteworthy examples exist out there of horses named for children or vice versa? Let’s hear from you.