It’s not often that an owner has two horses in the Kentucky Derby. Even more rare is when both horses are more or less named after the same person.
But this year, New Orleans native Gayle Benson has two horses named after her husband, Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints football team and the Pelicans basketball team.
Tom’s Ready was Benson’s first purchase, spokesman Greg Bensel said, and he’s sired by More Than Ready. “So Tom was ready,” Bensel said.
Mo Tom is sired by Uncle Mo. “He came at a time when Mr. Benson was having a knee surgery and it was a play on words that we needed for ‘Mo’re Tom,” Bensel said.
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The Jockey Club oversees the naming of racehorses, and there are strict rules: no famous people without special permission, nothing bawdy or vulgar, and hardest of all, nothing that already has been taken. There are about 450,000 names in the Jockey Club database already.
Jockey Club spokeswoman Shannon Luce said she’s not seeing a trend in naming this year’s Derby field, but some newly approved names in the Jockey Club database do reflect the political season: Fuel the Bern, My Trump Card and Odds on Hillary.
This year’s field does, however, reflect many loved ones, like Tom Benson. Mor Spirit, for example, is owned by Danish entrepreneur Michael Lund Petersen, who now lives in Baltimore. Spokeswoman Emmy Sikorski said Petersen’s mother lives in Denmark and will celebrate her 90th birthday on May 18. In Danish, “Mor,” means mother. “Michael’s wife, Charlene, came up with the name Mor Spirit in honor of Michael’s mother and her feisty and spirited energy and personality,” Sikorski said.
My Man Sam is named after co-owner Sol Kumin’s son. Majesto is a combination of the names of the two sons of owner Alejandro Ceballos, Mauro and Jesus, according to media reports. Brody’s Cause (by Giant’s Causeway) is named after the son of Reed Weston, who helped picked the horse for owner Dennis Albaugh.
Loved ones can include sports heroes. Derby favorite Nyquist was named for Swedish ice hockey player Gustav Nyquist, who plays for the Detroit Red Wings. Trojan Nation is owned by University of Southern California superfan Aaron Sones, who lives in Los Angeles. Whitmore was named by trainer and co-owner of Ron Moquett in honor of a high school friend.
“Whenever I got this horse, for some reason, I decided that he was kind of a freak athlete,” Moquett said. “And he looked like everything he did was easy. And I thought to myself, well that reminds me of Wilbur Whitmore. ... He’s a natural athlete and a good guy.”
Although he hadn’t spoken to him in years, Moquett called Whitmore and asked permission to name the horse for him.
“He goes, all right, you know, like he didn’t know what that meant really because he’s not that huge of a horse racer,” Moquett said. “But ‘I bet you this horse goes to the Kentucky Derby and I’m going to make you famous.’ And he started laughing. And I hope Whitmore — I hope he makes, you know, Wilbur Whitmore proud.”
Many racehorses get their names with a more traditional route, from their sire or dam or from even further back. For example, Danzing Candy is by Twirling Candy, whose dam was House of Danzing. Lani’s dam is Heavenly Romance, and the word lani is Hawaiian for “the sky of the heavens,” according to Keita Tanaka, interpreter for Lani’s trainer Mikio Matsunaga. Oscar Nominated was inspired by his dam as well: Devine Actress.
Destin was named by owners Kim and Randy Gullatt of Twin Creeks Racing Stables. His dam is Dream of Summer.
“When Randy and I were young, living in Louisiana, the nearest place to go for summer vacations was Destin, Fla., with the white sandy beaches,” Kim Gullatt said. “But mostly we like the meaning of Destin: ‘Fate for which you were meant.’ We are always looking for one-word names for our horses, and this one fit this horse perfectly.”
One-word names are always popular in horse racing. Outwork was natural because as a 2-year-old, he outworked all the other horses, Repole Stable racing manager Jim Martin said. Exaggerator was inspired by trainer Keith Desormeaux’s assistant and girlfriend, Julie Clark, because “she exaggerates everything,” he said (perhaps unwisely). Creator was a good fit with the devout Christianity of WinStar Farm principles Kenny Troutt and Elliott Walden. “They named him after God,” Winstar marketing manager Bethany Wurl said. “You can see a pattern with a lot of names tied to religion or patriotism,” horses like Jericho or Revolutionary.
Then there are names people just like. Winchell Thoroughbreds farm manager David Fiske said owner Ron Winchell picked Gun Runner. “I don’t think Ron even owns a gun; it just sounded like something strong and masculine,” Fisk said.
Shadwell Stable has two Derby runners, Mohaymen and Shagaf, named by Shadwell owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Farm manager Rick Nichols said the sheikh names all of his horses when he comes to Lexington in September and sees them as yearlings. Mohaymen means “to dominate,” which he mostly has in his racing career so far. Shagaf is Arabic for “fond of.” “Shagaf is a homebred, so the sheikh saw him when he was just a baby,” Nichols said. “He really liked him, and then he liked him more as a yearling.”
Nichols said he knows of only one exception to Shadwell’s Arabic names — when his daughter named a horse called Keeneland Breeze.
Suddenbreakingnews was going to be Breakingnews, but that name was taken when owner Samuel Henderson applied for it. So he added the “Sudden.” Henderson had no idea that his trainer, Donnie Von Hemel, has a niece, Molly Young, who is a reporter at The Oregonian.
“It’s just a happy coincidence,” Young said of the name. Young chose not to go into the family horse business started by her grandfather, also a trainer. “I won’t be at the Derby, but I will be at the racetrack here in Portland, cheering from afar.”
Reporters Alicia Wincze Hughes and John Clay contributed to this story.
For a name to be accepted by the Jockey Club, owners must abide by 15 rules, which include:
- It can’t be longer than 18 characters.
- It can’t duplicate names currently active in either racing or breeding. There’s a 10-year block on any name duplication.
- It can’t be exactly named after a famous person, except with special permission, and names can’t end in horse-related terms, including filly, colt or stud.
- It can’t be obscene or of vulgar use or appear to be designed to harass or humiliate.
- If an owner can’t come up with a name, the Jockey Club has an emergency list of names from which an owner can choose.
- If an owner likes a name but isn’t set on giving it to a specific horse, the owner can pay $75 to reserve the name for one year.
Once an owner has picked a name, he or she can register, naming that horse for life.
The naming process can be completed in 24 hours.
Names go through a phonetic system and are reviewed by the staff at the Jockey Club to check for any mistakes in the name.