Kentucky Derby

Here’s how this year’s Kentucky Derby horses got their names

John Clay and Ben Roberts handicap Kentucky Derby 143

Herald-Leader sports writers John Clay and Ben Roberts give their picks and more info on the Derby field from Churchill Downs.
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Herald-Leader sports writers John Clay and Ben Roberts give their picks and more info on the Derby field from Churchill Downs.

Gunnevera is a small town in Spain, Girvin a really small town in Texas (pop. 30) while McCraken, Kan., is slightly bigger (pop. 190).

Still, all three places are getting some extra attention, thanks to three Kentucky Derby contenders named for them.

Girvin’s owner, Brad Grady, was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Girvin. McCraken’s co-owner, Clay Whitham, said he used to drive through McCraken, Kan., a lot and liked the name. And Gunnevera is owned by a consortium of Spaniard Jaime Diaz Mengotti and Venezuelans Solomon Del-Valle and Guillermo Guerra.

Naming Thoroughbreds is a precise practice that’s harder than it looks because of stringent rules from the Jockey Club, which registers all Thoroughbred racehorses. Those include no famous people, nothing vulgar, and nothing already in rotation. There are 450,000 names in the Jockey Club database; owners can plug in their choices and find out if it’s already in use.

This year’s crop reflects the popular trend of one-word names and those that lean heavily on pedigrees.

For example, Classic Empire’s dam is Sambuca Classica, and his grandsire is Empire Maker, which created a bold combination for owner John Oxley. Irish War Cry is out of Irish Sovereign, and Practical Joke is sired by Into Michief and out of Halo Humor. State of Honor’s sire is To Honor and Serve and his dam is State Cup.

Some horses combine both trends: Sonneteer, one of three horses from Calumet Farm, is by Midnight Lute, Untrapped is by Trappe Shot, and Tapwrit’s sire is the hugely popular gray stallion, Tapit. (Tapit’s name, incidentally, is a perfect combination of sire and dam, by Pulpit and out of Tap Your Heels.)

Four consecutive post-time favorites have won the Run for Roses. A fifth would break a long dry spell.

One-eyed crowd favorite Patch was actually named before an infection took his eye. Calumet manager Eddie Kane said the name was a play on his sire, Union Rags.

But faced with huge crops of young horses to name, owners pick names for wide and varied reasons. A third Calumet horse, Hence, was a really good looking horse, “hence,” he should be fast, Kane said.

Calumet Farm's Patch hasn't let loss of left eye dim Kentucky Derby hopes.

Fast and Accurate is the motto of Northern Kentucky pain doctor Kendall Hansen.

“First we submitted Fast and Furious, but they wouldn’t allow it because of the movie,” Hansen said. “I always tell my patients when I describe my procedures, I say ‘I’m really fast and accurate,’ it just came out and it stuck.”

Rick Porter named his young horse Battle of Midway because he loves the U.S. military, and the Battle of Midway in 1942 was a turning point for the Allied forces in the Pacific theater during World War II.

Some people speculated that Bluegrass Stakes winner Irap was “pari” or bet in French spelled backwards, but Steve Haskins of the Blood Horse set the records straight. Before Irap was named, he was treated for joint issues with Interluekin-1 Receptor Antagonist Protein therapy. The van driver saw the word IRAP on his papers and assumed it was his name. Owner Paul Reddam decided to keep it.

Potato farming, auto racing, tanks and train wrecks are all part of the history of the infield at Churchill Downs.

Longtime owner Jerry Moss, the founder of A&M Records, usually names his horses for associated hits — remember champion mare Zenyatta, anyone? But in this instance, Gormley was named for British sculptor Antony Gormley, an artist that Moss greatly admires.

Horse names can also be sentimental tributes. Looking at Lee is owned by Lee Levinson, his sons Andy and Michael and a family friend, Don Nelson. In this case, Michael Levinson named the horse for his dad, Lee. J Boys Echo is named for owner Dennis Albaugh’s son-in-law, Jason Loutsch, whom he calls “J Boy,” with a nod to the colt’s dam, Letgomyecho.

We still don’t know how Thunder Snow was named — the Godolphin folks never responded to our queries. But here at the Herald-Leader, we are hoping that owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates is as big a fan of the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore — whose gleeful reporting about thunder snow during a Boston blizzard is legendary — as we are. At any rate, we know which horse Cantore will bet on Saturday.

Then there’s the name that every racehorse owner can relate to: Always Dreaming.

“It’s magical,” Anthony Bonomo told the Miami Herald in April. “I don’t know anyone who’s been in the horse business who doesn’t dream of this. So the name that my wife picked out — Always Dreaming — is what you have to do every day, especially in this business.”

Ben Roberts and Jared Peck contributed to this story.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

In the 142 years of the Run for the Roses, three of the biggest surprise winners have come in the past 17 years.

Naming guidelines

The Jockey Club’s guidelines for naming Thoroughbreds 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.

▪  Names go through a phonetic system and are reviewed by the staff at the Jockey Club to check for any mistakes in the name.