Aidan and Ike Green run Ruis Racing’s Montana ranch, where they break and raise Mick Ruis’ yearlings. A couple of years ago, Ike Green had picked out a promising colt by Medaglia D’Oro, and brought him to the ranch for training.
“We would sit in the living room and watch him gallop across the pasture so effortless and just float past the other horses with ease and that is right when the summer Olympics were on,” Aidan Green recalled recently. “My husband said ‘he’s just like Usain Bolt, how he gets in front and just starts smiling. So we thought Bolt D’Oro was a pretty good fitting name for him.”
Not all names for race horses come that easily. In fact, it can be a complicated process because of rules set by the Jockey Club, which registers all Thoroughbred racehorses. Those include no famous people, nothing vulgar, and nothing already in rotation. There are 450,000 names in the Jockey Club database; owners can plug in their choices and find out if it’s already in use.
But names are important, both for symbolism and public appeal. Like Bolt d’Oro, many names hearken back to famous ancestors. Magnum Moon is named for his sire, Malibu Moon. Plus his owners, Lawana and Robert Low, are wine collectors, so a big bottle like a magnum of wine or champagne made sense. Good Magic‘s dam is Glinda the Good and her dam was Magical Flash.
Some big corporate racing outfits will reserve names in that database, holding them for a horse that’s appropriate. That’s what happened with Justify, currently one of the favorites in the Derby field. WinStar President Elliot Walden had reserved that name for just the right horse, explained Bethany Wurl, WinStar’s marketing coordinator. “We knew Justify was the one after we purchased him as a yearling in the Keeneland September sale.”
WinStar has two more horses in the Derby this year, Audible and Noble Indy. Speaking of corporate, Noble Indy was submitted by Howard Lewis, a member of Stablemates, WinStar’s fan membership program. The name was perfect, Wurl said, referring to Noble Indy‘s noble bloodlines of sire Take Charge Indy, who was sired by Belmont Stakes winner and Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, and dam, Noble Maz.
“I get emotional to realize that I had the opportunity to name a magnificent thoroughbred that may run in the Derby — Noble Indy!” Lewis said.
Audible was a strong one-word name referring to the football term, but after he won the Holy Bull Stakes, Wurl said he got a lot of national attention. The audio book company Audible started getting alerts on Google. “They looked in to it and realized it was a horse on the Derby trail, not their company,” Wurl said. “From then on a relationship was built and audible.com ended up sponsoring Audible. Forbes even wrote a story about it.”
Combatant was not named for his bloodline, which includes his dam Border Dispute, says Winchell Thoroughbreds manager David Fiske. “I think we just pulled it out of the ether,” admitted Fiske. “But I also think Ron Winchell, I think he likes to put strong sounding names on his colts, in case they ever have to retire to stud.”
Sometimes it’s much more personal. Solomini is named for one of Ahmed Zayat’s grandsons, Solomon, while My Boy Jack is named for co-owner Sol Kumin’s son. According to the Breeders’ Cup, Free Drop Billy comes from a golf term for moving the ball before swinging; owner Dennis Albaugh’s golf partner Bill Collins enjoys free drops, so they named the horse for him.
Lone Sailor is named for the late Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, whose wife Gayle now runs the racing stable. “Mr. Benson won the prestigious Lone Sailor Award from the US Navy a few years ago and we have tried to name a few of his horses after his military service,” said Saints spokesman Greg Bensel.
Mike Repole founded vitaminwater and Body Armor sports drink and has referenced that background before, like 2011 Derby runner Stay Thirsty. Repole co-owns this year’s contender Vino Rosso, Italian for red wine.
Promises Fulfilled comes from a very personal story, according to Kellie Reilly of kentuckyderby.com. Owners Robert and Deborah Baron were celebrating their 44th wedding anniversary around the time they bought the horse, which gave Robert Baron the idea of a name.
Ron Lombardi, owner of Firenze Fire, said his daughter designs an Italian shoe line. “The two of us travel a few times a year for her business and we were in Florence Italy when I needed to name a few horses, hence Firenze,” Lombardi said. “Also at that time Tom Hanks was filming the movie “Inferno”……Fire…….Firenze Fire.”
The owners of Mendelssohn, part of the Coolmore breeding empire based in Ireland, have hundreds of racehorses around the world, and often pick famous people and places, like champions Galileo, Dylan Thomas and George Washington. So acclaimed 19th century composer Felix Mendelssohn certainly fits. Another famous place, the storied Hofburg Palace in Vienna, the glittery center of the Hapsburg dynasty, is the basis of Hofburg the horse.
Famed Calumet Farm has produced many one-word names in the past few years, such as Sonneteer and Patch. Add Bravaza, which means awesome in Spanish.
A particular horse, like Bolt d’Oro can prove the inspiration. According to Enticed‘s owners, Godolphin she was named in the spirit of her dam, It’s Tricky, who often had to be “enticed” or persuaded to do the right thing.
For Larry Best, Instilled Regard‘s name represents “a attitude about life,” he said. “What it means is, I’m going to try to instill it in my daughter: Always have respect for your competition and others, always lose well, but always do your best to win whatever race you’re in. But do it with respect and admiration for everybody else in the race.” Best said that his horses’ names “just come to me. I can’t explain it. I love the horse, it’s a classy horse, so I wanted something that supported the class of the horse.”
Then there’s the mixture of inspiration and aspiration that gave John Oxley — who owned and named the 2001 Derby winner Monarchos— the idea for Flameaway. “His flaming chestnut coat was part of it,” Oxley said. Also, back along his bloodline is the mare Flame of Tara. “Also, I’ve always loved the name Whirlaway,” who won the Triple Crown in 1941.
Oxley has been in the racing game a long time, and said naming his horses never gets easier. “For me it gets harder, I’ve named so many horses since I got started,” he said. “I just wonder is there another name I can find that I like?”
Herald-Leader reporter Jared Peck contributed to this story.