The winner by a name

Thunder Snow . Kentucky Derby . 5-5-17
Thunder Snow, my pick to win the 2017 Kentucky Derby based on the horses’ names. Photo by Andrew Watkins / Dubai Racing Club via

Don’t you love names of racehorses? It’s an art.

I’ll be honest with you, I’m not above placing an occasional wager simply because of the horse’s name.

Sometime in the late ’90s, I believe, my in-laws and I took in Derby Day at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. I loved going to the track with them. Some of my great memories.

Anyway, I was deep in the hole at the betting window. I almost always play two-dollar tickets – across the board on my chosen horse – and, on average, pretty much break even. It’s like free or, at least, cheap entertainment.

That particular first Saturday in May, however, I was tanking it. We had already been through all but one of the live races and the Kentucky Derby simulcast and I had not cashed a single ticket.

In the field for the 10th and final race was a horse named Stephen’s Slew. (Maybe Steven’s, I’m not sure now.) It was listed at 50-1 and I put $2 on the nose. By the time the bell sounded, the odds had dropped to something like 27-1.

Bless his heart, Stephen’s Slew came in with the win and single-hoofedly saved my day, paying off just over $50 on a $2 bet.

With that blast from the past, allow me to handicap the names we have for Saturday’s 143rd Run for the Roses. Following comments on each horse are two sets of numbers. The first is the odds – almost 22 hours before post time – obtained from the Derby’s Website. The second set is my odds, assigned by my ranking of the racehorse’s name. Please, do not use them for betting real money.

By post position:

(1) Lookin at Lee. As is often the case, this horse’s name is partially derived from a parent. His dad is Lookin at Lucky, who won the 2009 Preakness. Hey, that’s cool. The rest of his name comes from owner Lee Levinson. That’s not so cool. (25-1) (18-1)

(2) Thunder Snow. Right out of the gate, I love this name. To be sure, thundersnow is a genuine phenomenon, but it’s rare, such as becoming the first horse to win the Derby after racing exclusively in Europe and the United Arab Emirates. That’s what this Irish-born colt is attempting. Tough challenge, but I think the name may be up to it. (18-1) (3-1)

(3) Fast and Accurate. It’s difficult to believe this name hasn’t been used before. Isn’t that what you want in a racehorse? To tell you the truth, my first thought about “fast and accurate” was typing (what you kids call keyboarding). But what about alpine skiing? Yep, a minority owner of this horse is none other than Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller. (33-1) (7-1)

(4) Untrapped. Not much grabbing me with this name. It’s linked back to his dad, Trappe Shot, but who was he? I would have been more impressed had he been named after the von Trapp family in “The Sound of Music.” (60-1) (50-1)

(5) Always Dreaming. I’ll give it to you that it must be a big dream to own a racehorse and bigger still to have it run in the Kentucky Derby. However, labeling this colt with such a wistful name doesn’t exactly light a fire in his belly. (4-1) (25-1)

(6) State of Honor. This name has a certain degree of … well … honor to it, derived from his dad, To Honor and Serve. The sire had the better name. Let’s just say this doesn’t do anything for me. (47-1) (30-1)

(7) Girvin. My first thought: What? Then I read this colt is named after a wee town in Pecos County out in West Texas. One thing I saw said it had a population of about 30; another said it is a ghost town. OK, that’s pretty cool, but I’m still wondering why. Girvin might be my dark horse. (20-1) (13-1)

(8) Hence. Gotta say this is a simple name. According to, Eddie Kane, manager of famed Calumet Farm, explained the name thusly: “Hence was always a good-looking horse – ‘hence’ he should be fast.” That’s the weakest excuse for a name I’ve seen, hence my poor ranking. (17-1) (55-1)

(9) Irap. I haven’t seen any explanation for this name, which I’m assuming is pronounced “I rap.” If I learn this colt is owned by Drake, Eminem and Snoop Dogg, it will rocket up my name handicapping charts. (35-1) (25-1)

(10) Gunnevera. Too bad Girvin isn’t running next to Gunnevera. This colt was named after a small town in Spain. He was born in Kentucky but is owned by Peacock Racing Stables, which includes Spaniard Jaime Diaz Mengotti. I’d still like to know what is significant about that small town. (9-1) (13-1)

(11) Battle of Midway. Going for patriotism here, eh? But is it wise to name your horse after a famous naval battle when he’s preparing to do battle on land? Unless I learn the owner’s father fought at Midway, this old cynic feels you’re going for cheap nationalistic wagers. (37-1) (40-1)

(12) Sonneteer. Oh, but you’re doing a great job of working your way into this writer’s heart. While I’m not much into poetry, a writer of sonnets gets a double-take from me in this racehorse-naming competition. (36-1) (6-1)

(13) J Boys Echo. I confess, I like the sound of this. But, what does it mean? Here’s something that surely has nothing to do with the name. J Boys Echo was voted on social media to have a celebrity look alike: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Now that’s a good story. (42-1) (10-1)

(14) Classic Empire. Can you beat this for a winning name? Well, yes, I like something a little more clever. Classic is … classic. And Empire is … empire-like. (7-1) (12-1)

(15) McCraken. “Release McCraken!” Don’t you wish. Nope, nothing that exciting. This is another colt named after a town, this one in Kansas. (6-1) (13-1)

(16) Tapwrit. Remember the No. 3 horse? Surely, this is another named after something typewriter-ish. Maybe a throwback to Secretariat? Uh-uh, the simple and boring story is his name was derived from his Dad, Tapit. (29-1) (40-1)

(17) Irish War Cry. Warning! I love the sound of this name. Too bad, unlike the No. 2 horse, this is not another Irish native, but there remains passion in the name. As a bonus, it is derived from his mom, Irish Sovereign. That helps set him apart from all those who take names from their sires. (5-1) (4-1)

(18) Gormley. Points for being different here. It’s not a town or another horse this colt is named after but British sculptor Antony Gormley. Extra points for naming it after an artist, double points for naming it after a living artist. (24-1) (5-1)

(19) Practical Joke. Again, I find it difficult to believe this name had not been previously used. So, what’s the joke? The Derby’s site gave no background on the name, but I got a clue from the site of owner Klaravich Stables, which represents Seth Klarman of the Baupost Group, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. Hmm. (33-1) (50-1)

(20) Patch. Another simple name. It gets interesting when you learn he lost an eye due to an infection. It wanes some when you find out that happened after he was named. It tanks upon reading Patch plays off the name of his dad, Union Rags. (14-1) (24-1)

Here you have it, my picks based on nothing but the horses’ names:

Win: Thunder Snow at 3-1.

Place: Irish War Cry at 4-1.

Show: Gormley at 5-1.

Fourth: Sonneteer at 6-1.

What do you think? Chime in with your reasoning based on nothing but names. Anyone who mentions records, practice times or bloodline gets laughed off the page.

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