Kentucky Derby 2013: How Do They Name Those Horses, Anyhow?


Today on Saturday, May 4, millions of viewers will tune in to watch the 139th Annual Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. If you are in the stands you will be sure to hear: "Go Revolution, Come on Orb, Go Normandy Invasion, Go Verrazano, Pick it up Goldencents, Come on Itsmyluckyday, Go Palace Malice, Go Frac Daddy, Come on Golden Soul, or Go Will Take Charge." Sound interesting? Those are just ten of the names you might hear from this year's leaders board. One of the most interesting and surprising facts about modern day horse racing is the unique names of the horses.

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most famous and oldest continuous sporting events in the United States. The race was first run in 1875, when Col. M. Lewis Clark opened Churchill Downs. Col. Clark set up three major races to emulate the three premier races in England. Today, the Kentucky Derby is one of the most analyzed races in the world. In 2011, the race brought in $165.2 million in wages. Yet what makes this specific race special is the excitement around which it is built. Some of the things you might see this Saturday at Churchill Downs are women wearing large hats, men with seersucker suites sitting on "millionaires row," thousands upon thousands of roses, 120,000 mint juleps (the official drink of the Kentucky Derby), and 142,000 hot dogs. Most of all, it is the resounding echoes of distinctive names being called that adds an unparalleled experience for the spectators.

Some might assume that these names are just silly or a form of good luck, but there is quite a methodology behind naming a thoroughbred horse.  Every year over 37,000 thoroughbred horse names are registered through the Jockey Club. Any thoroughbred horse that is born in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico must be registered through the Jockey Club. The Club has an approval process whereby the horse owners submit their desired names. The purpose of the name registration is for the integrity of the stud book. The American Stud Book is the official rules and regulations book for thoroughbred horses. Each name has to meet a set of criteria or the name will be rejected. When it comes to naming a horse, the following regulations are just a few of the many restrictions:

- Names consisting of more than 18 letters

- Names consisting entirely of numbers.

- Names of living persons unless written permission is granted

- Names of persons no longer living

- Names clearly having commercial, artistic, or creative significance

- Names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning

- Names that are currently active either in racing or breeding

- Names of winners in the past 25 years of grade one stakes races

Most owners submit at least three names for their horse to insure that one gets approved. At any given time the Jockey Club will have about 450,000 active names, and no name can be the same. Once the names are submitted they are entered into a computer system that checks the phonetics. The phonetics are checked because the Jockey Club does not want two horses racing at the same time with very similar-sounding names. You wouldn't want to bet on the wrong horse.

Out of the 37,000 names that are registered each year, only 20 will qualify for the Kentucky Derby, and only 1 will win. This Saturday one of those horses will win the Kentucky Derby and receive a garland of 400 red roses that weighs 40 pounds, a 14-carat gold trophy, and $1.24 million. What name will you be shouting?