Our top 10 best names for past Kentucky Derby winners

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMay 2, 2014 

Good racehorses have good names.

What makes a good name? Well, it should be short and sweet. It should attempt to say something about the horse — either its pedigree or its perceived potential. Names should express a nobility about the animals.

Agile, Unbridled and Proud Clarion are good names.

Gato Del Sol, Pleasant Colony and Needles are not. The first is not easily pronounceable. The second sounds as if it could be a retirement home for aging nudists in Jupiter, Fla. The last sounds like a long-lost memoir by William Burroughs of his years as a junkie. (Burroughs did write a 1953 novel titled Junkie.)

Good names say something about the owners, too.

As Gary West wrote for ESPN.com earlier this year: "The names horses carry to the racetrack simply reflect the intelligence, thoughtful concern, and pride responsible for getting them there.

"People who take the time to give their horses well-considered names usually take the time to think about their horses' care and health. People intelligent enough to come up with good names are smart enough to make good decisions about their horses' training and development. People who take pride in success also take pride in naming their horses."

The horses, of course, care not a wit about their names, or whether they even have names. But looking over the names of the 139 Derby winners, we decided to pick the ones we thought had the best monikers.

Here is a very subjective list of the names we liked the best.

1. Aristides, 1875. What became a classic race had a first winner with a classic name. Aristides was an ancient Athenian statesman. The ancient historian Herodotus cited him as "the best and most honourable man in Athens." He received similarly reverent treatment in the writing of the philosopher Plato.

2. Plaudit, 1898. The name means a "round of applause" or "any expression of approval or praise." Plaudit Place in Lexington is named for this horse.

3. Exterminator, 1918. The name sounds fierce today — perhaps a bit too fierce for a gelding — but the same horse foaled in Jessamine County was also known as "Old Shang" and "Old Bones" later in life. And trainer Willis Sharp Kilmer, who was less than impressed with the horse's initial performance, called him a "billy goat" at one time. But he was no goat. His career record of 33 stakes wins has never been broken by any Thoroughbred raced in North America, according to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

4. Flying Ebony, 1925. Great name for a horse whose pedigree contains odd names. His sire was The Finn; his dam, Princess Mary. One grandfather was named Ogden; the other, Hessian. This horse won the first Derby to be broadcast on the radio. Flying Ebony Drive in Lexington is named for him.

5. Gallant Fox, 1930. This might be the most debonair name among Derby winners (aside from 1965's Lucky Debonair). Foaled at Claiborne Farm in Bourbon County, Gallant Fox was the second Triple Crown winner, after Sir Barton, in 1919. A street in Danville is named for this horse (in the same neighborhood with streets named for Derby winners Proud Clarion, Ben Ali, Count Fleet and Cavalcade).

6. War Admiral, 1937. When your daddy is named Man o' War, you have to have a like-minded moniker. He was the Triple Crown winner that year. His story is intertwined with Seabiscuit, the horse that beat him in a 1938 match race.

7. Whirlaway, 1941. The chestnut colt was the first of eight Derby winners for Lexington's Calumet Farm. This might be our favorite name of all. The name rolls off the tongue easily, and it gives a picture in your mind of something fast. In real life, Whirlaway had trouble running a straight line and had a tendency of running into the middle of the track. Nevertheless, the Triple Crown winner of that year was known by fans as "Mr. Longtail" and "The Flying Tail" due to his luxuriously long tail.

8. Count Fleet, 1943. Count Fleet was sired by 1928 Kentucky Derby winner Reigh Count out of a mare named Quickly, by Haste. Count Fleet was owned by the wife of John D. Hertz (1879—1961), who was best known for the rental car company bearing his name. The Triple Crown winner is buried at Stoner Creek Farm in Bourbon County.

9. Majestic Prince, 1969. With a name like this, wrote commentator Gary West, could the chestnut colt "have been anything other than outstanding?"

10. Spectacular Bid, 1979. The name is a nod to his sire, Bold Bidder, and his dam, Spectacular. Put 'em together and whaddya got? The winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, and the runner-up in the Preakness Stakes.

Greg Kocher:(859) 231-3305. Twitter: @heraldleader.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service