Jon Jazdzewski has always been a political conservative, and he always wanted to name a horse Far Right. When he bought a good-looking chestnut yearling at the 2013 Keeneland January sale for $2,500, he knew he had the one.
"I would say that I'm right of Reagan, that would be the simplest way to put it, and I waited for the right horse," Jazdzewski said recently. "We figured he was that good that early."
The story got even better when he sold Far Right to Harry T. Rosenblum. That's T as in Truman, as in President Harry Truman, who was Rosenblum's godfather. Rosenblum's father had become friends with the future Democratic president during World War I.
"That made it so ironic," Jazdzewski said. "When I saw that, I said, 'Wow!'"
Unfortunately, Rosenblum, whose baby picture is in the Truman Library, did not want to say anything about his horse's name.
"I don't want this horse to have any political aspirations," he said. "I'm not in politics, and I don't want it to be a shadow on him."
Still, Far Right's name makes a good story in this year's Derby field of names. Rosenblum named another horse, War Story, a two-year-old that he sold.
That horse's dam is named Belle Watling, the madam from Gone with the Wind (who was widely considered to have been modeled on real-life Lexington madam Belle Brezing). "And Gone with the Wind is definitely a war story," Rosenblum said. "It's difficult to name a horse. You might come up with the greatest name since sliced bread, and someone already has it. You have to be checking all the time."
There are pretty strict rules set out by the Jockey Club on Thoroughbred names, and the hardest one is that you can't use a name already in use. Many try to use their horse's breeding, like this year's Danzig Moon, whose sire is Malibu Moon and whose dam's sire is Danzig, or Firing Line, whose sire is Line of David.
Laurie Wolf, one of the owners of Itsaknockout, said that to her, the horse's sire, Lemon Drop Kid, sounded like a great boxing movie.
Others make a roundabout reference to breeding, such as Keen Ice, who was sired by Curlin. Donegal Racing owner Jerry Crawford said that "keen ice" means fast ice in the noble sport of curling.
"I love that idea," Crawford said.
Owners can reserve names with the Jockey Club, as in the case of Carpe Diem.
"We knew we needed a serious name for a horse this fast, this imposing, just absolutely incredible," said Winstar CEO and president Elliott Walden. "We had Carpe Diem reserved and had been waiting for the right horse. After we bought Carpe Diem, I immediately thought, 'This is the horse.'"
Ken Ramsey said that after he and his wife, Sarah, won Eclipse Awards for best breeder and owner a couple of years ago, someone asked what he would do for an encore, and he said: "I'm going to go international."
So the Ramseys started racing horses in Italy, France, England, Ireland and Dubai. "I wanted to name a horse International Star after our international ambitions."
Alto Racing's Materiality was named by Seth Klarman and William Lawrence, who pinhooked him, or bought him for resale, as a two-year-old. Klarman is a Wall Street hedge fund manager, so his horses' names often relate to the world of finance, a representative said.
Dortmund owner Kaleem Shah likes European, particularly German, soccer teams, such as Borussia Dortmund. He also campaigned Breeders Cup Classic winner Bayern, named for FC Bayern Munich.
This year, Zayat Stables has three horses running. Owner Ahmed Zayat often relates his horses' names to Egypt, his native country. His prize racehorse Pioneer of the Nile sired this year's Derby favorite, American Pharoah.
That spelling, incidentally, is wrong. Zayat's son and racing manager, Justin, said they held a naming contest on Facebook, and a fan spelled it that way. They submitted it directly to the Jockey Club. "It's not the Jockey Club's fault. It came directly from our website," Zayat said.
Mr. Z is named for the Zayat patriarch. Justin Zayat said his father always loved the look of this horse when he was young, "so I said, I'm going to call him Mr. Z."
Their third horse, El Kabeir, means the boss or the statesman in Arabic. Zayat said, "we've always liked the name."
There's another horse with an Arabic name: Mubtaahij, which, according to the horse's Twitter account, means cheery or elated. "They didn't tell me why, but it's how I feel when I run," according to a Twitter post attributed to the horse.
Arabic isn't the only foreign language in the race. Frammento's owner, Nena Moss and her late husband, Joe Moss, love Italy, trainer Nick Zito said. Shortly after the Mosses bought the colt, he injured his hind leg on a fence post in a field, requiring removal of a splinter. Frammento is Italian for splinter.
Sometimes looks can play a role. Frosted is a dark-gray horse, almost a dark-roan that looks flecked with ice, but it helps that he's out of Fast Cookie. Charlie Boden, Darley's head of sales, said, "We were thinking of icing on cookies. It's really color-related, but you could also say he's going to frost the other horses."
Other times, it's just a matter of coincidence and ease. Ocho Ocho Ocho was hip number 888 at the Ocala Breeders Sale. Bolo is a term used by police, short for Be On the Look Out, according to one of his connections.
Rick Violette Jr., who trains Upstart, said owner Ralph Evans started going through the 50,000 names released for use by the Jockey Club every year.
"I think he started at the Z's this year and got to U and found Upstart and liked the name and got it," Violette said. "So nothing real storytelling other than he pays attention, likes short one-word names, and he found one in that released list."
Then there's naming a horse just to have fun.
Tencendur is the name of Charlemagne's warhorse in the French epic poem, The Song of Roland.
His owner, Phillip Birsh, is president and CEO of Playbill Inc. and owns a farm in upstate New York. In an interview with the Albany Times Union, Birsh said he just wanted to find a name that was cool.
"My wife's French," Birsh told the paper. "I'll never stop trying to please her. As usual, there are many agendas."