The naming of a racehorse can be a serious undertaking. Along with jumping through hoops of approval from The Jockey Club registry, owners often want to bestow their best monikers on those who show the most potential for repeatedly crossing the wire first.
When Mike McMahon and Jamie Hill purchased a son of Super Saver for $130,000 on behalf of their Bourbon Lane Stable racing partnership at this year's Ocala (Fla.) March 2-year-olds in training sale, their staff was inspired to craft an alias as creative as they believed the colt was talented.
"We said, 'Let's come up with a great name because we think this is a pretty nice horse,'" Hill said.
Lovers of social media and adult spirits alike have latched onto the bay runner now known as Hashtag Bourbon. And while he figures to have ample backing when he starts in Saturday's Grade III, $100,000 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs, his form is as much responsible as his jovial name.
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The 11⁄16-mile Iroquois is the first points race toward the 2015 Road to the Kentucky Derby and has drawn a field of nine juveniles, including 5-2 morning-line favorite Mr. Z from the barn of Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
Since Hashtag Bourbon's 41/2-length victory in the Mountaineer Juvenile Stakes on Aug. 2, Hill says he and McMahon have fielded numerous offers from those seeking to add the Kellyn Gorder trainee to their barn.
"More so than his races, it's how he's trained since we bought him," said Hill, who along with McMahon formed Bourbon Lane Stable as the racing complement to their McMahon and Hill Bloodstock agency. "He's very smart, he handles everything, he doesn't get tired in his works, he just has a great attitude.
"Whenever you buy a colt, you're always thinking this could be my Derby horse. If you don't let yourself dream a little bit, you'll never have any fun in this business."
Even before his first trip to the winner's circle, Hashtag Bourbon was sparking thoughts of long-term success following his first outing beneath the Twin Spires.
In his career debut at Churchill Downs on June 28 — a 6-furlong test won by Mr. Z — Hashtag Bourbon trailed the field of nine after completely missing the break and had to check down the backside while attempting to go through an opening, but still came running in the stretch to finish third.
He again got off a step slow at Mountaineer but made a sustained bid around the final turn to swallow up rivals and draw off handily under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.
"Two works ago we worked with a 3-year-old stakes-winner," Hill said. "They kind of went head to head and at the wire he was about three-quarters of a length in front. Brian said, 'As I stood up and I dropped my hands and smooched to him, within five strides he was 5 lengths in front, 10 lengths in front, he just opened up.
"Brian came back to the barn said, '2-year-olds typically don't do this. He's got gear after gear.'"
Hashtag Bourbon will have his handiness tested as he breaks from the No. 1 post in the field of nine entered in the Iroquois with Mr. Z just to his outside.
The latter is the most battle tested of the bunch, having finished second in both the Grade III Sanford and Grade II Saratoga Special. Lukas pointed out this summer that he didn't exactly have the son of Malibu Moon fully cranked when he won his debut outing at Churchill.
"He was dead short," Lukas said of Zayat Stables' Mr. Z. "He was about five-eighths fit and I ran him 6 (furlongs) and he won pretty much on his class."
The class of babies from the first crop of Super Saver has been particularly notable with Competitive Edge and I Spent It — both sons of the 2010 Kentucky Derby winner — running 1-2 in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga on Monday.
Hashtag Bourbon was the first to gain notice as Super Saver's initial stakes winner. A two-turn win at the site of his sire's signature triumph would probably add to his already enthused following.
"For us, we want to race horses at the highest level, and we really enjoy doing it," Hill said. "We wouldn't mind taking on a partner and taking some chips off the table, but the right offer hasn't come along just yet. Maybe after this race it comes along. You just never know."
Kentucky Downs set for opening day
Live racing returns to the European-style turf course at Kentucky Downs on Saturday as a 10-race card is highlighted by the inaugural running of the $250,000 Dueling Grounds Derby.
A field of 10 3-year-olds led by graded stakes winners Medal Count and Global View line up in the 15⁄16-mile test. This year's Kentucky Downs live racing season spans five racing dates: Sept. 6, 10, 13, 17 and 24. Purses for this year's live meet average over $1 million per race day.