Image via kentuckyderby.com.
Image via kentuckyderby.com.
The Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, and soon enough we’ll have a horse that every uninformed columnist in America will assume can win the Triple Crown. Legitimate handicappers attempt to pick that horse through a mixture of pedigree, informed viewing, history, and the odds. Other people, like me, enjoy watching horsies run and mostly pick favorites based on the quality of the animals’ names. With that in mind, here are the twenty entrants in Saturday’s race, ranked by the quality of their names. Pick your pony wisely, lest you end up looking like a fool in addition to a dilettante.
20. Dullahan: It’s right there: this one is dull. I have no doubt that this name comes from Irish heritage, or maybe some famous sporting history I’ve never heard of. But tradition isn’t an excuse for boredom, and a name with no panache suggests a training staff with no confidence.
19. Alpha: Any herd has an alpha, but picking the term out as a name smacks of overconfidence and a lack of creativity. Why not name it Mr. Fasthorse, like in my favorite Mr. Show sketch, or just use This Horse Will Win the Race? It’s the same idea, just without a laughable assumption of effective subtext.
18. Hansen: Look, I’m as big an “If Only” fan as anyone, but at least get the spelling right. Jokes aside, Hansen is named after owner Kendall Hansen, which is obviously very boring and stupidly egotistical. But we’re here to judge quality of name, not the degree of selfishness behind them, and for all we know Mr. Hansen has legally adopted the horse and put him into his will.
17. Sabercat: The prehistoric animal itself is pretty awesome, but using this name in a sports context ensures that some people will think of the San Jose Arena Football League team. Although, I don’t know, maybe it’s an attempt at cross-promotion by that franchise’s owners. Is Mark Greib the jockey? Also, naming an animal after another animal is confusing and potentially a violation of the laws of genetics.
16. El Padrino: All rich white people love The Godfather, so I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that one or several of them chose to name a horse after the Italian translation of the title. Unfortunately, it’s also a little obvious to their interests, sort of like if they’d gone with Rearden Steel. At least choose a specific reference to the movie. Gun Wrapped in a Towel would be my favorite.
15. Trinniberg: I have no idea what this name refers to, but to me it sounds like an expensive country club. That works for the sport in question, yet it also lacks broad appeal and effective pun headline opportunities.
14. Prospective: I generally support adjectives as names. However, this one specifically refers to things to come in the future, which might have made sense when the horse was born but doesn’t much work now that it’s racing in the nation’s biggest outdoor hat competition. Better to opt for something with a shorter payoff like Destined or Impending.
13. Liaison: As with Prospective, here’s a decent idea that falls flat in execution. Unrelated nouns are solid options, but they must convey a sense of dominance or be so unbelievably great that such issues are irrelevant. Liaison would be a better fit for a horse that helps a horse get to the winner’s circle, or perhaps it’s horse agent that helps him get a large cut of the sugar supply.
12. Optimizer: It’s hard to imagine a horse optimizing anything, so this name brings to mind a fantastic image. The problem is that while a horse business consultant is pretty weird, it’s a little too corporate to have too much of an effect. Is he going to fire the other horses? That’s not awesome — it just makes the horse seem like a dick.
11. Bodemeister: The race favorite, Bodemeister is named after trainer Bob Baffert’s young son Bode. That’s dull. But if you pronounce it like it were really German, with a soft “e,” the entire thing becomes way cooler. It also makes you think that a comp lit major might eventually own a horse and name it Wilhem Meister.
10. Take Charge Indy: This is not an Indiana Jones reference — it’s just a combination of the horse’s parents’ names. But exhortations and exclamations make for pretty great horse names, and getting to yell this name in the middle of a race seems like a lot of fun. The only problem is that it has very little beyond that in-the-moment joy.
9. Daddy Long Legs: I have no idea if this name is a reference to the insect, the 1955 Fred Astaire musical, or something else entirely. That doesn’t matter — the great thing here is that the name can evoke different things for different people. A name need not hew to one meaning. As long as it appeals to a large group, it has the chance to inspire.
8. Creative Cause: All great sports moments are creative, whether on the part of the athlete or the impressed-upon audience. Creative Cause gets that idea right, but it gets demerits for the fact that it explicitly notes the concept instead of acting it out. Telling people about the creative act is less impressive than enacting it. 7.
7. Gemologist: This name notes the opulence of horse ownership but suggests some degree of connoisseurship and intelligence. It also reminds me of Geologist from Animal Collective, making Gemologist the most relevant horse in the indie blogosphere.
6. Went the Day Well: Slang is great, both because it harkens back to the sport’s heyday and because these phrases pretty much only make sense when shouted in the middle of a race summary. I guess Went the Day Well works as something to say after a win, but that really doesn’t matter — it’s best for what it suggests rather than its exact meaning, probably because it doesn’t have one.
5. Done Talking: Horses can’t talk, so this name only makes so much sense. But as an expression of athletic dominance, it’s pretty cool, a sign that the horse is ready to stop neighing the neigh and start trotting the trot. It’s easy to imagine Done Talking as the cocky asshole of the horse world. Almost like Chad Johnson, an athlete who once tried to make his name closer to that of a horse.
4. Daddy Nose Best: This is a very stupid pun and I cannot rightfully call it funny. However, there’s something pretty wonderful about the idea that rich people can own a horse and name it anything they want, even if that name is a childish homophone that should probably have stayed an inside joke.
3. I’ll Have Another: Drinking is one of the most popular activities at the track. So while I’ll Have Another is a very obvious bit of pandering, it’s also very much of the sport and fitting for the occasion. The bad news is that mint juleps cost roughly $45 at Churchill Downs.
2. Rousing Sermon: Earlier, I said that names can be indirect as long as they bring to mind the emotions and effects of victory. Rousing Sermon is a great example of that, acting as a metaphor for the joy, inspiration, and explosive righteousness of a truly great athletic performance. This is pretty much exactly what a name should be, especially because it’s funny to imagine some preacher invoking the horse a day after a Kentucky Derby win.
1. Union Rags: Two possible meanings, both pretty great. The first is a union paper, which both connects with my political leanings and works as a pejorative term useful for the rich executives who can afford tickets to the race itself. The other option, which is even better, is a term for the uniform of a tattered Union soldier during the Civil War. Horse racing is a brutal sport full of death, whipping, and athletic beauty. What better image for that than a ripped-up remnant of the war that solidified the nation through bloodshed and pain?