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Wacky Kentucky Derby Horse Names Are Common — Here’s Why

A name like "Millenium Wind" is normal in the horse world.


It’s an age old question: What’s in a name? If you’re a racehorse, a lot. Think about it: There are a lot of babies named Sarah or John. Many a dog bears the title Spot or Fluffy; many cats, Mittens or Felix. These are all classic names, and for good reason. They’re solid and timeless. But when it comes to horses, what names come to mind? Secretariat and Seabiscuit are valid responses, but so are the names Mucho Macho Man, Dr. Devious, and Soup and Sandwich (yes, these are all real racehorse names). With the Kentucky Derby coming up on May 6, you may find yourself wondering — where are the Fluffys and Felixes of the racehorse world? Why are all their names so dang bizarre? Keep reading to see why Kentucky Derby horse names are so unique, and what this year’s competing horses are named.

Why are Kentucky Derby horse names so complex and long?

Rooting for horses with wild names just adds to the Derby’s fun. And while you can name your dogs and cats anything you want, I’d rather not be yelling out my back door for my furry friend Lawyer Ron to get back inside (again, this is a real name). So why do we do this for horses?

As random as names like Mister Frisky and Wool Sandals (you guessed it — all real) may seem, they’ve actually been strategically created and painstakingly reviewed by a governing board. Thoroughbred racehorse names are subject to a list of strict rules and either approved or denied by The Jockey Club. Since 1894, The Jockey Club has overseen thoroughbred horse breeding and racing in the United States, and now they oversee Canada and Puerto Rico as well. 

What are the rules the names must meet?

Of the 60,000 names submitted each year, The Jockey Club rejects about a third of them each year, says Live Science, so many jockeys submit multiple names at a time. According to Horse Racing Sense, some of the 20+ rules include: 

  • Names can’t consist of more than 18 letters or consist of only initials.
  • Names can’t end in horse-related terms like “stallion,” “stud,” “filly,” “colt,” etc. 
  • Names can’t consist entirely of numbers — but numbers above thirty can be spelled out and used.
  • Names can’t contain a copyrighted term.
  • Names can’t be the same as those of past race winners over the last 25 years. 
  • Names can’t be suggestive, vulgar, or in any way offensive. 
  • Names can’t be the same as another person, living or dead, unless express permission is given.

Having so many rules forces jockeys to get creative, and since the Kentucky Derby has been running since 1875, you can imagine that there have been more than a few memorable names to make it through the system. 

Bob Curran, representative of The Jockey Club, says that some horses have been named after celebrities, as those celebrities have given jockeys permission, according to Live Science. Some of those celebrities include Barbara Bush, Jimmy Stewart, Ann Landers, Mickey Rooney, and Fred Astaire. 

Thankfully, jockeys don’t always have to refer to their horse by their long, odd names. Racehorses have specific names used at home called “barn names,” or everyday names that are much shorter, says Live Science. One of the most famous racehorses of all time, Man o’ War, had the barn name “Big Red.” A little less ferocious-sounding, but easier to say.

What are the names of the horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby?

This year’s Kentucky Derby on May 6 will be its 149th. The official website lists the names of its 23 contenders: 

  • Hit Show
  • Verifying
  • Two Phil’s 
  • Confidence Game
  • Tapit Trice
  • Kingsbarns
  • Reincarnate 
  • Mage
  • Skinner
  • Practical Move
  • Disarm
  • Jace’s Road
  • Sun Thunder
  • Angel of Empire
  • Forte
  • Raise Cain
  • Derma Sotogake
  • Rocket Can
  • Lord Miles
  • Continuar
  • Cyclone Mischief
  • Mandarin Hero 
  • King Russell

I can’t spot any that break The Jockey Club’s rules — unless “Two Phil’s” is a celebrity I’ve never heard of. Who are you rooting for this Sunday? Whoever you choose, don’t forget your fun hat

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