Feature

2019 Kentucky Derby horse names, ranked

Place your bets accordingly

Everyone has a different superstition for betting on racehorses, be it the color of the horse's coat, the pattern of the jockey silks, or a lucky post position. If you ask me, though, it's all in the name — some are simply luckier than others. A "Whirlaway" is just going to beat a "Staretor" every time.

Following that logic (or lack thereof), and as we have every year, The Week offers you our own Kentucky Derby odds, determined exclusively by the quality of each horse's name.

Tax

Odds based on name alone: 75/1

Actual odds: 20/1

Analysis: Yeah, that's it. Just ... Tax. Many racehorse names are nods to the Thoroughbreds' parents, and Tax is no different; his dam was named "Toll." Still, this is a strange name for a horse in a sport known for attracting the uber-wealthy, a perhaps unintentional reminder of the racehorse tax break or the fact that some of the owners pay less than their fair share by using tax havens. Or maybe it is intended to caution an overly-optimistic bettor that you still have to deduct tax from your winnings. While the word itself is sonically catchy — "tax" has a bit of an onomatopoeic skip to it, like hooves clicking along concrete — the name itself is a head-scratcher for a racehorse.

Improbable

Odds based on name alone: 50/1

Actual odds: 5/1

Analysis: Racehorse owners love to give their colts and fillies names that suggest the ability to overcome long odds (see also: Untapped; Sporting Chance) and that's exactly the case with Improbable, despite 6/1 odds not really making him a true underdog. Improbable is also intended as a clever homage to the horse's dam, Rare Event, Louisville's Courier-Journal reports. Still, I don't love these dewy-eyed one-word names that seem to be gunning for an eponymous movie to be made about the horses later.

Game Winner

Odds based on name alone: 50/1

Actual odds: 4/1

Analysis: If "Improbable" is tip-toeing around the point, Game Winner just comes out and says it — and as goofy as that might be, I kind of can't help but respect the awkward clunkiness of this name. The only thing that would make Game Winner's name more ridiculous would be if this horse was just flat-out called Derby Winner (alas, that name was already taken). In an interview with the Courier-Journal, owner Gary West confessed that "there's no particular story behind the horse's name," which yeah, no kidding.

Win Win Win

Odds based on name alone: 50/1

Actual odds: 14/1

Analysis: The origins of Win Win Win's name are actually pretty neat: His sire is named Hat Trick. Get it? Unfortunately, the sitting president has made this name cringeworthy, and I personally can't help but hear "Win Win Win" in his voice. While this name would be higher ranked if it was an isolated nod to that timeless, under-the-breath gambler prayer for victory, Win Win Win instead feels unintentionally political, even if his owners aren't likely to have concerns about getting "sick and tired of winning."

Long Range Toddy

Odds based on name alone: 45/1

Actual odds: 30/1

Analysis: Willis Horton Racing typically names its horses after family members, the Kentucky Derby's Tales from the Crib blog writes, and "Long Range Toddy" honors Horton's daughter-in-law's nephew (Horton confirmed "I'm about to run out of names"). The marksman connotation, as well as the reference to distance, both work well for a Derby runner, alluding to the speed and precision of a bullet and Churchill Down's long 10 furlongs. Still, giving people names to horses is never any fun; this is the time to go crazy with the likes of "Suddenbreakingnews" and "Palace Malice" and "Too Sleepy To Zip." Apologies to gun-crazy Toddy, but this just isn't up to snuff.

Country House

Odds based on name alone: 40/1

Actual odds: 30/1

Analysis: There is nothing speedy about the name "Country House." First of all, the word "country" brings to mind a slower pace of life, a leisurely way of doing business, an escape from the responsibilities of the city. Houses, meanwhile, are neither sleek nor aerodynamic. You might as well name a horse Retirement Community or Off Picking Daisies or Bag of Anvils. It's just not a racehorse name! Nevertheless, I'll leave it open to the possibility that it is immensely ironic and not put it at the bottom of the list.

Tacitus

Odds based on name alone: 35/1

Actual odds: 8/1

Analysis: Hey, who'd have thought that reading an article about racehorse names could teach you something about ancient Rome? The erudite name of this horse comes from the historian Tacitus, who's famous for recording the reigns of emperors Tiberius, Claudius, and the tyrannical Nero. Still, there's not a lot of pizzazz to being named after a long-dead answer to an AP History pop quiz. That's a shame, because Tacitus comes from a long line of horses with great names, including Storm Cat, Gone West, Seattle Slew, Nijinsky II, and Secretariat himself. I suppose "Incitatus" was taken.

Plus Que Parfait

Odds based on name alone: 35/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: This name, which refers to the pluperfect tense in French, gives me traumatic flashbacks to conjugation tables in high school. The pluperfect tense is used to denote something that happened at a specific prior point in the past; in English, it is formed with had, as in "Plus Que Parfait had won the Kentucky Derby." Translated more literally, though, the name doubly means "more than perfect," which has the same problem as the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which is that "perfect" is an absolute and it is impossible for something (say, a union) to be more perfect. As a professional writer of words, the fact that there is a Derby horse whose name is a literal grammar joke tickles me. As a survivor of level six Spanish class, it makes me shudder.

Master Fencer

Odds based on name alone: 30/1

Actual odds: 60/1

Analysis: Master Fencer is the first Japanese-bred horse to race in the Kentucky Derby, and its name does something to correct the legacy of his dam's extremely terrible one: Sexy Zamurai (and no, that's not a typo). Master Fencer was named via a game played by the employees of his training facility, the Courier-Journal reports, although America's Best Racing writes that owner Katsumi Yoshizawa is such a fan of American horses that he typically puts the name "American" in their names. Still, a name like Master Fencer suggests this colt has a bit of fight in him, which boosts him a bit in the rankings. En garde!

Maximum Security

Odds based on name alone: 30/1

Actual odds: 6/1

Analysis: Maximum Security's owner claims that there is no reason behind his name, which makes it all the stranger — why just happen to pick a name that makes everyone think of a penal state? Still, racehorse owners love a good macho-sounding name and Maximum Security gets the job done. It does double-duty, too, suggesting that the horse is unpassable and gives utmost dependability to those putting money on his name. It's a bit ridiculous, but there are certainly worse names out there.

Vekoma

Odds based on name alone: 30/1

Actual odds: 20/1

Analysis: The roller coaster subreddit is very excited about this horse, which is named after a Dutch amusement ride designer. While I'm normally staunchly against brand names for horses, "Vekoma" is blessedly no Audible. His name even makes a bit of sense as a homage to his dam, named Candy Ride. I love the sound of this word, too, which has a bit of a zoom to it. A name that evokes a roller coaster is great for a racehorse, too. Points for the association, although naming your horse after a brand still remains a dumb thing to do.

Haikal

Odds based on name alone: 25/1

Actual odds: 30/1

Analysis: This year's "Merriam-Webster defines ..." candidate is Haikal, whose name is a Coptic vocabulary lesson as much as it is a "classical Arabic name" befitting a racehorse belonging to Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai. As Tales from the Crib goes on to explain, Haikal in Arabic means "boundary," and fits thematically with Sheikh Hamdan's other horses, such as the racehorse Jazil ("tremendous") and Haikal's dam, Sablah ("morning"). While something could very well be lost in translation, I'm not quite sure what a boundary has to do with horses or racing. That being said, I can speak to the sound of the word, which has both strong consonants and a bit of poetry to its swinging A's. If a combination of strength and poetry isn't what is required of a racehorse, then I don't know what is.

By My Standards

Odds based on name alone: 20/1

Actual odds: 20/1

Analysis: I can't help but like this weirdly rude horse name! "By My Standards" seems to have a passive-aggressive sneer practically built into it — by my standards, things would have been done differently, but sure, go ahead, keep on doing it your way. The actual naming process described by the Courier-Journal was more innocuous: "We keep a number of names, and when it's time to name horses we just go down the list ... We listen to music and pick out lyrics to songs, titles of songs, different clichés." Two thoughts: First, owners, put some actual effort into these names! Secondly, despite the incredibly boring and random way this horse was named, it still kind of owns.

Code of Honor

Odds based on name alone: 15/1

Actual odds: 10/1

Analysis: OK, so owner William S. Farish might not exactly be the most original horse namer out there; he also ran a Thoroughbred named Honor Code in 2014, and apparently wanted to recycle the name for his Derby-competing colt. But because there can be no repeat names in the Jockey Club, you get, uh, Code of Honor. While that might not be as catchy as "Honor Code," the name is a bit of a nod to both the horse's sire, Noble Mission, and Farish's previous stint as the ambassador to the U.K. between 2001 and 2004. It's a virtuous name without feeling forced. You know what they say: If a name ain't broke, don't fix it.

War of Will

Odds based on name alone: 8/1

Actual odds: 20/1

Analysis: No, you didn't miss something in history class; the War of Will never happened. This name is more of a play on the saying "a battle of wills" — again with the combat names! But while War of Will would be knocked down close to the bottom of this list if that was all it had going for it, this horse actually goes by its initials: WOW. Yes, WOW the Kentucky Derby horse (free idea for a children's book author!). It's so silly that I absolutely adore it.

Bodexpress

Odds based on name alone: 8/1

Actual odds: 40/1

Analysis: You know what I was saying about the importance of not giving horses people names? I have my exceptions, and this is one. Bodexpress' name comes from his sire, Bodemeister, who in turn was named after trainer Bob Baffert's son, Bode. That alone isn't particularly interesting, but what is fun is that Bode Baffert was named after Olympic Gold Medalist skier Bode Miller, Zayat Stables reports on its blog. It takes a few eponyms, but Bodexpress is therefore indirectly named after a legendary alpine ski racer, which is quite fitting for a horse. The "express" part of the name, which shares the "E" with Bode, also plays into the speediness of the name and the ski-themed name (detachable chairlifts are frequently called expresses). It should be noted, though, that Bodexpress is the 2019 Derby's first and only also, and was added to the race on Thursday after Omaha Beach (a perfectly average name) was scratched due to a case of entrapped epiglottis.

Gray Magician

Odds based on name alone: 5/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: I really hope this owner is a Lord of the Rings fan, and Gray Magician is a roundabout reference to Gandalf the Gray. More likely, though, this name is a homage to the horse's sire, Graydar. Gray Magician got lucky, nevertheless: Most racehorses end up with names that don't particularly relate to their characteristics and are more for jumping through the hoops required by the Jockey Club for registration, but Gray Magician is an exception with a silvery coat to match (fun fact to impress your friends over mint juleps: It has been 14 years since a gray horse won the Derby, and three colts, including Magician, will have a chance to break that streak this year). Perhaps most important of all, Gray Magician dodged a bullet — he has a half-sibling out there who is unluckily named Baydar.

Cutting Humor

Odds based on name alone: 3/1

Actual odds: 20/1

Analysis: Cutting Humor has a name that is a traditional combination of his dam and sire — that would be First Samurai and Pun, respectively. Everyone, please take a moment to reflect on how great a name "Pun" is. Moving on, "Cutting Humor" is a prefect tribute to his bloodline, while also implying this horse has a caustic wit, which delights me. As it breaks down as a racehorse name specifically, "cutting" gives the name a violent sort of swiftness worthy of a champion athlete, while "humor" reminds everyone to keep a bit of perspective. This is, in the end, all for fun.

Spinoff

Odds based on name alone: 5/2

Actual odds: 30/1

Analysis: Spinoff is yet another horse with a homage name but no, his sire was not named Frasier or Better Call Saul. Instead, Spinoff is the fortuitously-named colt of Hard Spun (which is itself a very mediocre name). I love this racehorse name because of the word's zippiness, the visual image of something careening off from the whole, and the way the name almost underestimates itself, the way a true spinoff TV show might seem second-place to its source material. Of course, spinoffs are sometimes even better than their sources, and this horse's name gets to the heart of that unbridled potential.

Roadster

Odds based on name alone: 2/1

Actual odds: 9/2

Analysis: I am a sucker for a great one-word horse name, and am absolutely thrilled by "Roadster," which is at once totally goofy and completely a racehorse name (the sire is "Quality Road"). It's a tad hard to take a horse named Roadster seriously, though — it is neither traditional, patriotic, romantic, or anything close to expected. Named after the sporty two-seat car body style, Roadster plays into the long, dueling history between the automobile and (literal) horse power. But don't overthink it: The name implies the speed of a flashy red convertible, but also undercuts its own self-seriousness with the silly -ster prefix. "Horsester" is not yet claimed as a name by the Jockey Club, but should absolutely be one of this colt's eventual progenies. For that reason alone, I think ol' Roadster is going to have a great Saturday in Louisville.

Recommended

10 things you need to know today: January 19, 2022
Free rapid test kits in Broward County, Florida
Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 19, 2022

Democratic Reps. Jim Langevin, Jerry McNerney won't seek re-election
Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.).
retirements

Democratic Reps. Jim Langevin, Jerry McNerney won't seek re-election

The daily gossip: January 18, 2022
"Weird Al" Yankovic.
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: January 18, 2022

Free COVID-19 tests now available on government website
COVID-19 rapid tests
'beta phase'

Free COVID-19 tests now available on government website

Most Popular

America's long record of judicial despotism
Roger B. Taney.
Picture of Ryan CooperRyan Cooper

America's long record of judicial despotism

Omicron may be headed for a sharp drop because so many people are infected
Dr. Janet Woodcock
Omicron Blues

Omicron may be headed for a sharp drop because so many people are infected

California deputy DA opposed to vaccine mandates dies of COVID-19
Kelly Ernby.
covid-19

California deputy DA opposed to vaccine mandates dies of COVID-19