Kentucky Derby

Names of the game: Horses' handles a matter of rules and being 'twinspired'

Twinspired with  Derrick Smith up during preparation for the 137th Kentucky Derby  on Wednesday May 4, 2011 in Louisville, KY.  Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Twinspired with Derrick Smith up during preparation for the 137th Kentucky Derby on Wednesday May 4, 2011 in Louisville, KY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

There's one horse named as a tribute to Indian democracy, and another named for a 19th-century mail boat. But for most horses in this year's Kentucky Derby, it's all about catch phrases: Brilliant Speed has Twice the Appeal for a Decisive Moment in this year's race.

Naming horses is a lot harder than it sounds. First you have to think of something, then you have to go through the very time-consuming, rule-laden approval process with the Jockey Club. "It's the hardest thing in the whole business," said Marilyn Campbell, who names all the horses that she and her husband, Gilbert G. Campbell own, including Watch Me Go. "When they keep getting refused, you have to keep coming up with something different."

In this case, they were watching the horse work on their training track in Florida when he flashed by. "I said, 'look at him go,' " she recalled, and the name was born.

Another favorite name was inspired by a previous Derby, when then-Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones had a horse running. "I said, if the governor wins, who will present the trophy? Wouldn't that be a pleasant dilemma?" Campbell said, and used it to name one of her favorite fillies.

Sometimes a favorite device is using the names of sires and dams for inspiration. There are very obvious ones, such as Midnight Interlude, whose dam was Midnight Kiss, or Archarcharch, the son of Arch. Sometimes, it works to use both sides of the family. Twice the Appeal, for example, is the progeny of Successful Appeal and Double Boarded. Brilliant Speed is out of Speed Succeeds.

With Mucho Macho Man, the owners were trying to play off sire Macho Uno, said James Culver, president of Dream Team Racing.

"At first we were thinking of Macho Man, but so many people in racing speak Spanish, we added Mucho," Culver said. "I've heard people say it's named after the Village People song, but that's not it."

A few family names are more subtle. Soldat, for example, the French word for soldier, is by War Front, out of a mare named Le Relais.

Or take Animal Kingdom, whose sire is Leroidesanimaux, French for the king of animals or the king of beasts. (Lionheart was probably taken.)

Then we have those names that depend completely on the wit and whimsy of the horses' owners. Nehro is really named for Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India who helped India transform from a British colony to a democratic nation.

Owner Ahmed Zayat is himself Egyptian, but said he has always been inspired by Nehru, and his family, which included his daughter, Indira Gandhi, the prime minister who was assassinated in 1984.

The Jockey Club doesn't allow horses to be named for real people, so Zayat simply changed one letter. But the spirit is the same.

"Basically he is a person who represents to me the values of egalitarian democracy," Zayat said. "Nehro will run in the spirit of human rights and social justice and democracy."

That rule didn't apply to Shackle ford, the horse that most news reports say is named for former North Carolina State basketball star Charles Shackleford. However, the Blood Horse Magazine reported that owners Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge named him for the southernmost barrier island off the North Carolina coast where wild horses have lived for several hundred years.

Santiva's owner, Tom Walters, has a house on Sanibel Island in Florida. It's not far from Captiva, and in the 19th century a mail boat that went between the two places was called the Santiva.

"We have a picture of the boat," Walters said.

Mike Repole owns two Derby horses this year, one of them named for the very reason he's here: Stay Thirsty. Repole made his fortune with Vitaminwater and Smartwater, which he sold to Coca-Cola for a reported $4 billion. So he certainly wants people to stay thirsty.

Uncle Mo, who was scratched Friday, is a term that Repole described as "having momentum," a good quality in a racehorse.

That's somewhat similar to Dialed In. In a recent teleconference, owner Robert LaPenta described how he got to that name: "You know, he's a horse that was just very, very focused. From the very beginning if you look at his early works, he just wanted to get to the finish line. He just wanted to dig in. So he was kind of dialed in. He was very focused."

Pants On Fire, owned by George and Lori Hall, is not actually deceitful. The Associated Press reported that Lori Hall named him with a nod to his sire, Jump Start, along with some firefighters who are friends with the Halls.

Decisive Moment was born from a moment of journalistic cliche. Owner Ruben Sierra was driving to his stable just a few days before his new colt was supposed to ship to the track. He needed a name desperately. Just then a radio news announcer said "decisive moment," and it seemed to fit.

"He's a very beautiful horse, and I felt he needed a strong name," Sierra said.

Amazingly, it wasn't already taken, and Sierra completed the online application in 24 hours.

Comma to the Top is owned by a trio of California filmmakers. One of their daughters had trouble pronouncing the word "apostrophe." Instead, she called it a "comma to the top."

Then every Derby has to have some Derby-inspired names. There's Derby Kitten — the Ken and Sarah Ramsey colt bred in nearby Jessamine County by their stallion, Kitten's Joy — and maybe the cleverest of all, Twinspired.

Trainer Mike Maker said that owners Jim Shircliff and Harvey Diamond enjoy the night racing at Churchill from the fourth floor chairs next to Churchill Downs' iconic spires. One night, "they had a little to drink," Maker said, started remembering old Derbies and hoping for one of their own, and came up with Twinspired.

The master of hounds is the person who leads the pack of hounds at every fox hunt, a popular pastime in England and Ireland, where Master of Hounds has been trained. Coolmore Stud owner Susan Magnier names most of her horses from a wide selection, said Dermot Ryan, the manager of Coolmore's U.S. base, Ashford Stud.

But as Ryan pointed out, names are really only interesting once the horse starts winning.

"Every name is good if the horse is good," he said.

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