Curling, Baking, Typos: How This Year’s Kentucky Derby Contenders Got Their Names

What’s in a name? A lot, if you want to tackle the Triple Crown

Kentucky Derby
MIKE SEGAR/Reuters/Corbis

Mint juleps, big hats and bets — it’s Kentucky Derby season, and on May 2 spectators will gather at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky to cheer, jeer and will their favorite horses to victory. But how do the Thoroughbreds, who sport names like Carpe Diem and International Star, get their names?

It depends, reports Pia Catton for the Wall Street Journal. Naming a Thoroughbred horse can be a mundane process or a bizarre one. Take El Kabeir, for example. Catton notes that when the horse’s owner, Egyptian businessman and stable owner Ahmed Zayat, saw the horse, it strutted around like it owned the place. So he named it “boss” in Arabic.

Parentage is another common naming strategy, notes Catton. Fast Cookie’s foal Frosting (another baking reference) will race in this year’s Derby, as will Danzig Moon, son of Danzig and Malibu Moon. Other owners prefer themes, like Kaleem Shah, a soccer fan who has named horses things like Bundesliga and Bayern (Dortmund is being called “the big star of the Kentucky Derby”).

Perhaps the strangest horse name in this year’s stable is Keen Ice. It’s a curling term that means fast ice, reports Catton — appropriate for a horse sired by a champion named Curlin. Still others will reuse names released by the Jockey Club, which must vet and approve every registered Thoroughbred name. The club has a complex, competitive naming process with plenty of fine print. For example, it’s not kosher to name a horse after a racetrack, use horse-related terms, or indulge in wishful thinking by naming it after a former Horse of the Year.

But though the Jockey Club has the last word on names, it could use a proofreader or two. Owners, the public, and the Club all missed a typo in the name of 2015 contender American Pharoah… who will nonetheless race with a misspelled name.

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