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What's in a Name?

How and why horses get those unique monikers


Where the dough goes

Horses that place 1st–5th split the winnings this way: 


1st Place


2nd Place


3rd Place


4th Place


5th Place

YOU SAT ON A LOSER? Jockeys still get a $95 mount fee for riding in a race.

Onoitsmymotherinlaw, Bodacious Tatas, or Nosoupforyou. Like sailboats, Thoroughbred racehorses are known for having outlandish names. “It’s people trying to be creative and have fun,” says Billy Koch of Little Red Feather Racing. He explains that owners will often try to work with both the sire’s and the dam’s names to come up with something creative for an offspring. Successful Appeal and Oral Argument, for example, begat Public Defender.

“We had a horse that was produced by Pleasantly Perfect and Coconut Popsicle. I named him Ice Cream Truck. I always wanted to hear the racetrack announcer say Here comes Ice Cream Truck! but the horse wasn’t very fast. And later, people wanted to know why I’d name a horse after such a slow-moving vehicle.”

Do trainers and staff actually call racehorses by those elaborate names? “No. Most of our horses have nicknames. We don’t use their full names. We have a horse sired by Birdstone. So we named him Larry Birdstone. We call him Larry. He’s part of the family.”

The Jockey Club is the agency that oversees and registers all racehorse names, and it has rules about what can and can’t be used. Koch says that after a horse’s first race, its name is entered into the Jockey Club registry and can’t be changed. Certain names, like Secretariat, are retired and can never be used again.

Is there luck in a name? Maybe. Consider that horses with names beginning with the letter S have won 19 times at the Kentucky Derby, the most recent being Super Saver in 2010. In 2008, Big Brown became number 13 in the next-highest winning category, the letter B, and C has 12 winners, including this year’s California Chrome, who also won the Preakness Stakes in May.


More: Del Mar, Decoded

Horse Betting 101
What to say at the betting window »

6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Races
A little insider knowledge »

Special Events
The 2014 season runs July 17-September 3 »

The Hat Contest
What it takes to win »

Watchful Eyes
Stewards scrutinize the jockeys and horses »

How a Horse Knows to Run
What makes horses “break,” or jump out of the gate »


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