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Homeracing

Famous Racehorse Names and Their Meanings

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

September 7th, 2022

Scan the entries on a typical racecard and you'll see a wide assortment of ordinary nouns and phrases make up a significant portion of the names Thoroughbreds carry with them throughout their lives. Some make sense, but others can leave you scratching your head at their possible meaning, or make you curious as to what was behind the naming.

Inspiration can come from just about anywhere. For example, the honoring of notable athletes has been popular through the years. Think of Chris Evert, the Hall of Fame filly named for the tennis star, or 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, whose namesake was the veteran hockey player Gustav Nyquist.

Go back nearly a century, to the mid-1920s, when a horse named Sarazen was one of the top runners in the country. He was named for Gene Sarazen, one of a select group of golfers to have won all four major tournaments and who was still alive more than seven decades after his namesake graced the racetrack.

Sometimes horses are named for relatively unknown people. Clyde Van Dusen, the 1929 Kentucky Derby winner, was named in honor of his own trainer. Owner Albert Sabath named a yearling after himself and was rewarded when Alsab was voted champion at two and three and earned a spot in the Hall of Fame. Another Hall of Famer, Dr. Fager, was named for the surgeon who once helped save the life of the colt’s trainer, John Nerud.

Fictional characters are always a good resource. Lemon Drop Kid, the 1999 Belmont Stakes winner and 2000 champion older horse, comes from a short story written by famed author and die-hard racetracker Damon Runyon. Thankfully, the horse was significantly more entertaining than the 1951 film version of the story starring Bob Hope.

Other artistic output can also provide inspiration. Jerry Moss, who co-founded A&M Records, named the superstar mare Zenyatta after "Zenyatta Mondatta," an album released in 1980 by The Police, the England-based trio who recorded for A&M.

Some prominent owners derive names from personal sources. John Ed Anthony, who has raced under the Loblolly and Shortleaf Stable monikers for more than four decades, has tended to name his runners for places in his native Arkansas. Examples include Cox's Ridge, Pine Bluff, and Temperence Hill.

The late Alfred G. Vanderbilt, a prominent heir and racetrack executive, was especially clever at naming his horses, usually influenced by the names of their parents. Native Dancer was a son of Polynesian and Geisha. Find was a son of Discovery, while the capable Social Outcast was the offspring of Shut Out and Pansy.

Foreign words and phrases are generally popular, but what exactly is the meaning behind the name of 1949 Horse of the Year Capot? Well, capot is a French term used in the classic card game Piquet and is considered the source for the more widely-used German word "kaput."

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