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Sunday, March 17, 2013
Updated: March 19, 2:31 PM ET
The Derby name game

By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com

You can't name a thoroughbred race horse just anything. The name, including spaces and punctuation, can't surpass 18 characters. The names can't be vulgar. You can't reuse the name of a past champion, Hall of Famer or Kentucky Derby winner. There'll never again be another Secretariat. No names with commercial significance are allowed, so there'll never be a horse named Walmart or Burger King.

Sometimes the ones with the bad names actually come through. Vagrant won the second-ever Kentucky Derby in 1876 and was never again referred to as a bum.

But there's no rule against giving a horse a name that is, well, really dumb. Maybe there should be.

The list of the year's Kentucky Derby nominees is again littered with names that make you wonder just what their owners were thinking. There's Dipsy Drew, Fevernthefunkhouse, Happyisoutback and Ino Thepath. There's also Mywayorthecauseway, Onlinepoker and, perhaps the worst of them all, Wabbajack. I'm not a big fan of I'm Boundtoscore, either. It sounds like the title of a porn movie.

There's a Bambazonki nominated to the Derby. Weewinnin is more like Welosin. The poorly named Derby nominee was eighth out of 10 in his last start. Whoever named the horse Govenor Charlie must have flunked his or her fourth-grade spelling class.

Fortunately, none of these horses are serious Kentucky Derby contenders, so we don't have to worry about a horse named Wabbajack joining a list of immortals that includes such horses with iconic names as War Admiral, Majestic Prince, Count Fleet and Secretariat. And the one really good horse with the really bad name, Violence, has been injured and retired.

You'd think people could come up with something better than Dipsy Drew, but too often they don't. The Kentucky Derby has had its share of horses whose names make you wince. There have been horses named Dunce, Ishkoodah, Shut Up and The Nut. Then there were Degenerate Jon, Paulrus, Tonka Wakham, Tragniew and the immortal Mr. Mutt. What's an Elooto, other than a really bad name given to a 1938 starter who finished ninth at 122-1?

One fellow thought so little of his 1882 Derby starter that he named him Lost Cause. Is it any wonder he ran next to last? Lost Cause ran like a dog, and so did St. Bernard, who was eighth in 1919. Not to be outdone, another owner came back with a horse named St. Bernard. This was another one who dogged it around the track. He was 17th in 1935.

Violence
Violence could have etched his name in Kentucky Derby history, but an injury sent him to an early retirement.
Sometimes the ones with the bad names actually come through. Vagrant won the second-ever Kentucky Derby in 1876 and was never again referred to as a bum. The name Elwood (the 1904 winner) isn't very becoming but at least it is better than Lil E. Tee, who won in 1992. Sounds like he was named by a 6-year-old.

Many owners get the names for their horses by borrowing something from the sire's name and something from the dam's name. Triple Crown nominee Perfect Title is a result of the mating of Perfect Soul and Title Seeker. Silver Day is by Silver Train out of Boxing Day. With some, they seem to pull them out of nowhere. Masaru is by Tiznow out of Letgomyecho. And no, I have no idea what or who a Masaru is, other perhaps than the first name of a starting pitcher for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

No matter how they do it, they should come up with something that signifies dignity or strength or valor. Some people get it. Kudos to the owners of 2013 nominees Normandy Invasion, Duke of the City, Flashy Gray, Golden Lad, Imperial Concorde, Python and War Dancer. Now those are manly names, even though Flashy Gray is a filly.

Perhaps the best-named major contender for the Derby is Revolutionary, whose sire is War Pass. There's a name that has it all: strength, history, fortitude, bravery. Sounds like a winner to me.