The annals of the Kentucky Derby are full of winners whose names ring with grandeur: Lord Murphy, Kingman, His Eminence, Animal Kingdom, Monarchos, Charismatic, Proud Clarion.
They’re also full of horses whose names suggest that their owners were not thinking “pinnacle of the sport” when they were named: Vagrant, Super Saver, Mine That Bird, Funny Cide, Big Brown, Elwood (though, to be fair, in 1904, Mrs. C.E. Durnell couldn’t possibly know that her horse would later be associated with a Blues Brother).
Will the name of this year’s winner do justice to the majesty of the event? Or will the person tasked with engraving the trophy wince as he consigns the moniker to immortality, an immortality it’s tempting to think Wordsworth had in mind when he wrote these words…alas, nearly three-quarters of a century before the first Kentucky Derby.
The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
My heart is at your festival,
My head hath its coronal,
The fulness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all…
While Earth herself is adorning,
This sweet May-morning…. (“Intimations of Immortality”)
The 2013 Kentucky Derby, by the letters:
Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, Lines of Battle, Java’s War: “In the spring,” wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson, “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” What, one wonders, would he make of the Quartet of Bellicosity in this year’s Kentucky Derby? Will one of them be storming the finish line on Saturday evening? The pacifist in me looks uneasily at this group, but even his name can’t make me look beyond Revolutionary.
Mylute, Itsmyluckyday: Names that violate the conventions of standard written English are automatic tosses. My students wouldn’t have it any other way.
Charming Kitten: As if we need to explain.
Vyjack: Not the most euphonious name ever, but how do you not like a horse that a guy names for his parents?
Frac Daddy: He’s with Vyjack in the aurally harsh category, but without the familial resonance and with the added disadvantage of invoking Kris Kross’s Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly, who died way too young this week at age 32. “Mac Daddy” can also refer to pimps, and what New Yorker can hear “Frac” without thinking of our state’s ongoing hydro-fracking controversy? Surely it would be socially and environmentally irresponsible to back him.
Verrazano: A block and a half from my apartment, I can stand on the Brooklyn Promenade, look south, and see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, so really, this horse is bringing a little piece of Brooklyn to Louisville. The Italian (another plus) Giovanni da Verrazzano explored New York Bay in 1524, and today the bridge spans the body of water through which the man sailed. On the other hand, it’s a huge drawback that both the bridge and the horse get the spelling of his name wrong.
Palace Malice: This perfectly poetical moniker offers both consonance and rhyme, along with insinuations of regal mischief.
Overanalyze: In a word, what we all do way too much of when it comes to picking a Derby winner.
Black Onyx: At first, the apparent redundancy of his name made him a play-against. Further investigation, though, offers reason to pause: “Onyx also comes in red and browns. Red, brown and brownish reds are called a different name than onyx, they are called Sardonyx.” He immediately moves into consideration as a contender, if for no other reason than the hope that he will reproduce and we’ll someday have a horse awesomely called Sardonyx. [Update, Friday, 11:40 a.m.: so much for that. Just announced that Black Onyx is scratched.]
Giant Finish: Wins the award for making the best use of his pedigree: Frost Giant out of Apocalyptic.
Orb: The son of Malibu Moon gets honorable mention in the pedigree name game, and likely much more than that on the racetrack.
Whoever you like this weekend, find a way to push some money through the windows and support the sport. Our wagering dollars fund purses, which pay the trainers, owners, and backstretch workers who make the sport possible.
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But however or wherever you wager, good luck, have fun, and safe trips to all!