Updated: March 20, 2013, 8:55 AM ET

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Plenty goes into playing 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.

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40 years later, Secretariat's run still one of a kind

By Paul Moran | Special to ESPN.com

Secretariat
AP PhotoSecretariat took owner Penny Chenery, left, and jockey Ron Turcotte on a historic ride in 1973.
The baby boom generation was coming of age, those at the vanguard in their early 20s, the "Woodstock Generation," many freshly out of college, in search of employment in a shallow market wracked by runaway inflation or repatriated, disillusioned and troubled from Vietnam and a war that tore the national consciousness to the bone. Bell-bottom pants were in fashion. Lapels and ties were wide; skirts short; collars and hair long. The average price of a gallon of gasoline was 40 cents. In New York, construction of the World Trade Center was nearing completion.

As hearings began in Washington, the nation's mood was darkened by the unfolding Watergate scandal that would end dramatically with the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. Despite a sense of relief, there was a pervasive embarrassment and undercurrent of anger that lingered after 12 years of unproductive, widely unsupported combat that left more than 50,000 young Americans dead in Southeast Asia. Spiro Agnew, the vice president, was under investigation by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland on allegations of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy. The Age of Aquarius had dawned and dimmed and there was a pervasive anxiety in America.

In the winter of 1973, America's sports pages lamented the lack of a Triple Crown winner since Citation, the Calumet Farm legend who had swept the series in 1948, when those who would come to be known as the "boomers" were yet in diapers. A quarter-century had produced no truly great 3-year-old thoroughbred. Sportswriters speculated that the breed was obviously in decline and raised the possibility that there might never be another Triple Crown winner. Thoroughbred heroes were as scarce as human ones.

During that quarter-century, six horses had failed to complete the Triple Crown after having won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Half suffered injury in the series, giving rise to speculation that the thoroughbred had become too brittle to withstand the grind. The term "Cripple Crown" surfaced in cynical newspaper columns.

At the same time, a copper-colored colt training at Hialeah Park was already the toast of the racing world but had yet to win a significantly wider audience. Secretariat's designation as Horse of the Year, at age 2, was controversial and widely debated. By the end of 1973, the only remaining point of debate: Is this the best horse ever to have raced in the United States? Or, the world? Better than Man o' War? Nearco? Citation? Forty years later, the evidence supports strongly an argument on his behalf.

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