Lady and The Track | January 20, 2021

Scroll to top


Home » Kentucky Derby » What’s in a Name? Kentucky Derby Edition

What’s in a Name? Kentucky Derby Edition


How Naming A Racehorse Works And Some Of The Unique Names On This Year’s Kentucky Derby Points Leaderboard

By Augusta Hosmer  

The Jockey Club Registration Papers. Photo: The Jockey Club

Whether someone is a fan of horse racing or not, chances are a racehorse’s name has come up in passing that made them go, “How on earth did they come up with that one?” (We’re all looking at you, Pot8os.) Though there are still some horses’ names that make even the most seasoned racing fans scratch their heads, we may be able to clear up some of the confusion about just how some of these horses came to be called what they are.

When Thoroughbreds are born, they generally do not receive a name until after they have sold at auction should their breeder decide not to keep them. The horse must be named by the time he is around two years old, or the owners will be charged a late fee. Each name can contain up to 18 characters, including spaces, punctuation, etc.

The Jockey Club then has a list of requirements that must be met in order for the horse’s name to be registered, and it is ultimately up to the organization which name will be selected from the six each horse’s owner submits. Initials, names of racetracks or trade names, and names that are considered offensive or suggestive are not allowed. Names of people can be used, but only if the person gives the Jockey Club written permission first.

Through the years, some owners have had a bit of fun with the Jockey Club, however, as evidenced by approved horses’ names like Eighteencharacters (2002), HorseyMcHorseface, Givemeanothername, Hoof Hearted, and another horse simply named ARRRRR, which caused famed race caller Tom Durkin to have some fun. A particularly urban legend that keeps circulating involves a horse whose name managed to make it past Jockey Club approval despite being vulgar, which was reported, and then changed by the owner to “Tattle Tale.”

Names of Kentucky Derby winners (and Hall of Famers, champions and several others who achieve a certain status with their careers) are not allowed to be re-used either, which means that one of the horses this year just might have his name forever immortalized come Derby day. If anyone has been wondering about some of the names on this year’s Derby points leaderboard, wonder no more.

2019 Tampa Bay Derby winner Tacitus. Photo: Taylor Gross

Tacitus – 150 points (1st)

From the Latin word for “silent, hidden, occult,” this horse also shares a name with one of the greatest Roman historians and Latin prose writers.

Omaha Beach – 137.5 points (2nd)

Owner Rick Porter wanted to remind racing fans of the sacrifices made by the men and women during World War II. Hence, he named the son of War Front after one of the landing areas for the Allied forces in the famous D-Day invasion.

Vekoma wins the 2019 Blue Grass Stakes. Photo: Jordan Thomson

Vekoma – 110 points (3rd)

Vekoma is the name of a Dutch roller coaster manufacturer famous for producing thrills like Six Flags’ Goliath, Invertigo at King’s Island, and the T3 at Kentucky Kingdom, located adjacent to Churchill Downs. Matt Gatsas, who is the co-owner Mike Gatsas, came up with the name.

Plus Que Parfait – 104 points (4th)

This horse’s name is a French phrase that translates to “more than perfect.” In the French language, the plusqueparfait corresponds to the past perfect in English. It is used to express actions that took place before a certain point in the past.

Roadster. Photo: Ernie Belmonte Jr.

Roadster – 100 points (5th)

A roadster was a famous type of racing car in the 1950s and ‘60s, but is now more associated with sports cars. This name has a deeper meaning when one considers the fact this horse’s sire’s name is Quality Road, and the group who owns him is called Speedway Stable. All kinds of connections to racing here.

Haikal – 70 points (10th)

Haikal has several meanings. One comes from the Urdu language and is commonly used as a male name meaning “tale.” The other is defined as, “the central chapel of the three forming the sanctuary of a Coptic church.” (Webster’s Revised Dictionary)

Improbable – 65 points (11th)

Improbable’s name is linked to his dam’s: Rare Event. This horse making it to the Derby, however, certainly isn’t improbable.

Tax – 52 points (14th)

Tax continues his sire and dam’s patterns of short and sweet names as is common from breeders Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. He is an Arch colt, but his name comes from his mother’s: Toll.

Cutting Humor – 50 points (15th)

This horse’s name likely comes from a clever combination of the names of his sire and dam. Cutting Humor is a First Samurai colt out of a mare named Pun.

Signalman. Photo: Hodges Photo

Spinoff – 40 points (19th)

Spinoff is a “spinoff” of Hard Spun, the name of this colt’s sire.

Signalman – 38 points (22nd)

This horse is named for co-owner Tommie Lewis’s husband, who served as a Signalman in the Navy during the Vietnam War. The Signalman was a crucial part of naval communication.

Sueno – 32 points (24th)

“Sueno” is the Spanish word for “dream.”

Bourbon War – 31 points (25th)

Bourbon Lane Stable, co-owner of Bourbon War, celebrates a Kentucky tradition by including “bourbon” in all of their horses’ names.