Kentucky Derby 2019: How do Racehorses get their Names?

Written by Julie Wallace
Racehorse headshot

“Game Winner”, “War of Will”, “Gunmetal Gray”, “Improbable”, and ”Win Win Win” are just a few of the 2019 Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

It’s our family tradition for everyone to pick a horse on derby day. Our prize pool isn’t usually for money but for bragging rights. Most of us don’t put in hours of handicapping research. We use the simple method of—what name do I like?

How do they come up with names for racehorses?

First, the owners get a max of 18 characters (including spaces) to come up with a winning name!

A name that will be easy for fans to yell out (and bet on) as the horse rounds the final stretch to the finish line.

When you register a racing horse you have to come up with something original. It can’t be vulgar or offensive in anyway. You can’t name a horse with initials or numbers. You can’t name a horse after a living person unless you get written permission.

Last year Gronkowski, the New England Patriots TE, had a horse named after him. Unfortunately, the horse was running a fever and was pulled from the Kentucky Derby lineup.  He did however place 2nd in the Belmont just behind Justify, who became our 2018 Triple Crown winner.

If you want to use a deceased famous persons name you’ll have to get permission by the Jockey Club first. They get the final approval on all names.

Check out Online Names Book – Jockey Club, you can actually enter any name you might want to name your horse and see if it’s available.

Horse name generators

If all your great ideas for winning names are already taken here is some websites that can help you out by generating names for you.

  • Windy Acres Ranch you can use your horses gender and attributes to generate a name. They even have different language option including Lord of the Rings.  Just in case you want to name your horse Sauron or some other Middle Earth name. (which by the way Sauron is available for all you L.O.R. horse lovers.)
  • Baltimore Sun Racehorse Name Generator The Baltimore Sun that covers the PREAKNESS, the middle race in the TRIPLE CROWN has their very own Thoroughbred name generator.
  •  Horse name generator This site came up with thousands of different names. You can just scroll through the choices and see if any jump out at you.
  • Fantasy name generator This generator is not solely a horse name generator but it focuses primarily on names meant to evoke feelings of heroism and greatness. Perfect for a future Triple Crown winner.
  • Rum and Monkey horse name generator This site asks questions about yourself to generate a name. My future horse’s name is “Ultimate Justice” I love it.

Jockey Club denies about 30% of names requested

The Jockey Club won’t allow names ending with filly, colt, stud, mare, stallion or any other horse related term.

You can’t name a horse after a racetrack or a stakes race.

You’re not able to use names that are clearly advertisement. Nor can you have a similar name to another racing horse around the same time frame. They will recycle names after a waiting period but that depends on the horses accomplishments. Some names have been retired and can never be used like “Man o’ War” or “Secretariat” to name a few.

With all these restrictions you wonder how a name is ever decided on. Especially since the Jockey Club denies about 30% of names requested. You can see why so many names are weird and wacky.

A simple way to name a Thoroughbred racing horse is to use a name from their pedigree or some combination. Like, Kentucky Derby hopeful, “War of Will,” his father (sire) is “War Front.” Or choose a name that represents the horse’s personality or something as simple as its color, like, “Gunmetal Gray.”

“Gunmetal Gray” is a Kentucky Derby hopeful that famous Jockey Mike E. Smith will be riding.  I imagine my husband will be picking him, based purely off of the horse’s name.

What horse will you be picking for the 2019 Kentucky Derby?

The jury is still out on who will be racing in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. All the hopefuls are racing in a variety of 35 races. They award points to the top 4 places in each race. At the end, the top 20 horses will have the honor of running in the Kentucky Derby. Of course there’s plenty of buzz going on. The famous Trainer Bob Baffert has hopefuls in “Game Winner” and “Improbable”. With Bob Baffert’s 5 Kentucky Derby wins—he is always a favorite.

“Win Win Win” also seems like a great horse’s name to be betting on. There are many hopefuls and only 20 spots to fill. Maybe it’s premature to start picking Kentucky Derby winners but since I’ll be attending this year (for the first time…squeal!) I’m paying a little closer attention to possible winning names. Good luck and I’ll see you at the track!