Friday, May 13, 2011


I got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere
And here's a guy who says if the weather's clear
Can do, can do
This guy says the horse can do
If he says the horse can do, can do, can do.

I'm picking Valentine
'Cause on the morning line
the guy has got him figured at 5 to 9
Has chance, has chance...

No way
for Paul Revere I'll bite
I hear his foot's all right
Of course it all depends
If it rained last night
I know its Valentine
The morning works look fine
Because the jockey's brother's a friend of mine...

But look at Epitaph
He wins it by a half
According to this here in the "Telegraph"
Big threat, big threat...

Now this is no bum steer
It's from a handicapper that's real sincere...

(Excerpts from "Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys and Dolls)

I certainly can't improve on the opening song from Guys and Dolls which sums up the racetrack culture. The Kentucky Derby has just ended, and once again, I just missed on the Trifecta, getting the longshot winner (Animal Kingdom) and the second place horse (Nehro), but missing the third place horse. Although it didn't affect me, two horses with little chance of winning based on their records were heavily bet by the sentimental crowd because of their popular jockeys. One must keep in mind that no jockey, no matter how talented, has ever carried the horse across the finish line.

Horse racing is unlike other sports in that nobody ever interviews the winning athlete. The talking heads interview the trainer, the jockey, the guy who mucks out the stall and everyone else, but the horse just silently stands in the background. Maybe they can have Mr. Ed or Francis the Talking Mule (my favorite movie star) conduct an interview.

One thing I enjoy in racing is the creativity of the names of the horses. I and many other fans have wondered where they came up with the names of some of these horses. First of all, a little history is in order.

All thoroughbred horses are descended from 3 stallions brought to England from the Middle East in the 17th Century and bred to Scottish sprinting mares. The Godolphin Arabian was foaled in Yemen, given to the King of France as a gift and was seen pulling a water cart when it was admired by the Englishman Edward Coke who purchased it and sold it to the Earl of Godolphin.
The Darley Arabian was named after its owner, Thomas Darley who bought the horse in Syria in 1704. The Byerley Turk was named after its owner, Captain Byerley who captured the horse from the Turks at the siege of Buda in 1690.

We can consider names like Joe Cotton, Ben Ali, Macbeth II, Spokane, Judge Himes, Donerail, Exterminator, Burgoo King and Gallahadion which, by the way are all past Kentucky Derby winners. Donerail went to the post as a 91-1 longshot. In some instances, the names are a variation of the horse's bloodlines. Macbeth II was sired by a horse called Macduff, which happens to be my wife Dianne's maiden name. Her family, on the Patch side, also has connections to the famed trotter Dan Patch, and in fact we keep a large portrait of that horse in our house.

Under Jockey Club rules, you can't name a horse after a living person without that person's written permission. Many have, such as Barbara Bush, Fred Astaire, Ann Landers and Shecky Greene. Jack Klugman ran in the Kentucky Derby. Chris Evert (the horse) is in the Racing Hall of Fame. Nehro, who finished second in this year's Derby, was supposed to be Nehru after the Indian statesman, but that name was already taken.

A horse can't have an obscene, offensive or suggestive name--and many ARE rejected. Some that slipped through include Panty Raid and Bodacious Tatas. Horses with fart in the name are rejected.

An acquaintance of mine is a race track announcer, a job which requires his ability to call out the names very quickly in the heat of a race. He prepares for the race by studying the program, and when he finds a horse with a difficult or unfamiliar sounding name, he uses multi-colored markers to underline each syllable in the horse's name with a different color. This trick of the trade works well with a horse like Nelbludepintodeblu that used to run at Santa Anita and drive the announcer crazy. The word looks like gibberish, but it was actually a hit song by Dean Martin and others.

To avoid the possibility of fraud, you can't have two racehorses with the same or similar names. So unlike humans, where you can have several people with the same name, the Jockey Club Registry will not allow that with horses. The entertainment industry is replete with similar names creating confusion. You have country singer Julie Roberts, as well as movie star Julia Roberts. Tommy Lee Jones and Tom Jones. Its not unusual, but better yet, there are two movie stars named Michael Douglas although the younger one is known to us as Michael Keaton, not to mention TV talk show host Mike Douglas who died in 2006 at age 81.

But, hey, it's all relative--Albert Brooks' real name is Albert Einstein which was also the name of a horse probably named to attract the "smart money." But speaking of smart, the 2004 Kentucky Derby winner was named by owner Roy Chapman after his mother-in-law Millie McNair whose childhood nickname was--Smarty Jones.

With horses, there is a specific set of rules to govern the many situations. Names can be recycled, but not if the horse is still racing or breeding. Names of winners of Grade One stakes races in the last 25 years are not allowed. That would appear to make the names Secretariat or Seabiscuit available except for another rule about "Permanent Names" which include horses in the Racing Hall of Fame, horses voted Horse of the Year, and horses that have won some other awards. Unavailable names would also exclude "Annual Leading sire and broodmares by progeny earnings", horses who have won more than $2 million lifetime, and horses that have won any of the Triple Crown races , the Jockey Club Gold Cup or the Breeder's Cup. The name can't have more than 18 characters (including spaces), so you often have names jumbled together. Nelbludepintodeblu barely qualifies.

They've been running the Kentucky Derby for 137 years, the Preakness even longer than that, and the Belmont for almost that long, so a lot of names are ineligible.

Speaking of unusual names, the Preakness was actually named after a horse. The race, first run in 1873, predates the Kentucky Derby. Preakness (the horse) was named after the Preakness Stables in Preakness, Wayne Township, New Jersey. The name came from the Indian word meaning "quail woods". The horse Preakness won the first stakes race held on opening day at Baltimore's Pimlico Racetrack in 1870. In those days there was no concept of the Triple Crown, and in fact the Preakness was run on the same day as the Kentucky Derby in 1917 and 1923.

The Belmont was named after New York socialite financier August Belmont Sr. Dion and the Belmonts were named after the same guy, but actually after Belmont Avenue in the Bronx. Mr. Belmont at age 65 volunteered for duty in France in World War I. In 1917, while he was away, a foal was born in his stable. Mrs. Belmont named the colt Man O' War after her overseas husband. Man O' War who was called "Red" or "Big Red" around the farm lost only one race in his glorious career--to a horse named Upset, whom Man O' War had defeated 6 times previously. Although many think otherwise, the term "upset" in the sense of an unlikely winner, was actually a common term for many years prior to that race.

As we can see, the horses' names often do have meanings. In many cases, a horse's name is long or wordy to reflect its bloodlines so that breeders and buyers can recognize its lineage. Things are named after horses also. The Snickers candy bar was named after a favorite horse of its creator, Frank Mars.

Names are limited only by the creativity of the horse owners, but if a Thoroughbred horse is going to race, it must clear the hurdles set by the Jockey Club--no more than 18 characters, etc. Owners frequently submit several alternative names in the hopes that one will be accepted. If you want to check on a prospective name, subscribe to and use the 7 volume American Stud Book, which lists the names of every racing and breeding Thoroughbred horse in North America.
If you're going to bet them, remember, as Damon Runyon said, "the race doesn't always go to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet."