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The 2021 Kentucky Derby horse names, ranked

Every year, the biggest and brightest sportswriters put their heads together to predict the outcome of the Kentucky Derby. That is not what this is.

Instead, we at The Week believe in the tried-and-true method of “winging it” and betting with your gut based on no more information than the horse’s name. It doesn’t always work out — alright, full disclaimer, it rarely does. But that hasn’t stopped us yet. Here’s where we land on the luckiness of the names in the 2021 Run for the Roses.

Rock Your World

Odds based on name alone: 75/1

Actual odds: 5/1

Analysis: Just … ew? “Rock Your World” sounds more like it belongs as part of a pickup line you’d hear in a dive bar from a two-time divorcé named Hank, not in the sport of kings. According to a statement from the co-owner given to the Louisville Courier-Journal, which annually reports on the meaning of all the horse names, Rock Your World was chosen because “from what I understand, it’s just a fun, great name, and we were hoping he would rock everybody’s world.” Yeah and Hank is just a fun, great guy, too.

Super Stock

Odds based on name alone: 50/1

Actual odds: 30/1

Analysis: Thoroughbred racehorse breeding is obviously an extremely big and expensive business, but do we really need to get into all that with the name? And all while Super Stonk was sitting right there.

Dynamic One

Odds based on name alone: 50/1

Actual odds: 20/1

Analysis: According to the Courier-Journal, this horse was originally named Barbuda, after the Caribbean island, before it was bought and renamed by the new owner. While “Barbuda” is a bit of a bougie rich-person horse name (it’s a wink at our favorite offshore tax haven, get it?), it’d still have placed considerably higher than “Dynamic One,” which, while aspirational, is also a little too desperate.

Essential Quality

Odds based on name alone: 45/1

Actual odds: 2/1

Analysis: What’s with all the horses this year whose names sound like guarantees on a carton of eggs? Essential Quality’s owner, Jimmy Bell, explained this pretty terrible horse name by telling the Courier-Journal “it’s a good phrase.” The defensive exclamation points are implied.

Brooklyn Strong

Odds based on name alone: 40/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: Ever since the Boston Marathon bombing, variations of the phrase “Boston Strong” have “become an inescapable part of how this country heals after tragedy,” The Associated Press reports. But this name isn’t a somber rallying cry in remembrance of Superstorm Sandy or the COVID-19 pandemic or the closing of local neighborhood favorite Cranberry’s (RIP); it’s a reference to the horse’s New York breeding, the owner’s roots in Brooklyn, and a nod to the horse’s sire, Wicked Strong. That is to say, this name is misleading, and Brooklyn doesn’t need your stinking sympathy. They’re doing fine!

King Fury

Odds based on name alone: 35/1

Actual odds: 20/1

Analysis: Like Nyquist and Gronkowski, King Fury belongs to the tradition of naming horses after human athletes — in this case, Tyson Fury, a two-time world heavyweight champion who also happens to have a history of making comments that reek of “homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism.” That’ll knock King Fury down a few notches, even if his name seems like the title that ought to go to the winner of King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Medina Spirit

Odds based on name alone: 30/1

Actual odds: 15/1

Analysis: Though “Medina” is a girl’s name in Arabic, it’s also the name of one of Islam’s holiest cities and the home province of Saudi Arabian owner Amr Zedan. The divine eponym gives Medina Spirit a strong sense of destiny as a result, but appealing to a higher power isn’t always a winning combo: Let’s not forget the disaster that was “Mor Spirit” in 2016. Medina Spirit is nowhere close to being that, but still feels a little unoriginal.

Like the King

Odds based on name alone: 25/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: Many racehorse names are tributes to the dams or sires, and Like the King is a clever reference to his dam, Like a Queen. It makes me want a whole bloodline of horses named Like a Prince and Like a Princess, but things won’t start getting really good until you exhaust the obvious noble ranks (Like a Duchess, like a Kaiser) and get into the good stuff (Like a Junker, Like a Baroness Carrickfergus).

Bourbonic and Midnight Bourbon

Odds based on name alone: 25/1

Actual odds: 30/1 and 20/1 respectively

Analysis: Yes, yes, we get it, you’re in Kentucky! But apparently no one can resist giving a racehorse a bourbon name, despite it being so obvious. Why don’t you just cut to the chase and name the animal Mint Julep or Funny Expensive Hat or Shameless Attempt To Win The Bid Of Someone Who Is Tipsy From Day Drinking? At least fellow 3-year-olds Whiskey Double and Swill didn’t make the cut this year. Now, if we had to give a slight edge to one horse over the other here, we’d pick Bourbonic, if only for the hilariously perfect definition of the name/word given to the Louisville Courier-Journal by owner Calumet Farm: “A state of consciousness occasionally achieved upon the consumption of an ample sufficiency of bourbon.” Revelers might keep that one in their vocabulary.

Mandaloun

Odds based on name alone: 20/1

Actual odds: 15/1

Analysis: Speaking of vocab lessons, a mandaloun is a style of Lebanese window. It’s a cool word and a neat bit of trivia, but I’m at a loss for what Lebanese architecture has to do with horse racing?

O Besos

Odds based on name alone: 15/1

Actual odds: 20/1

Analysis: A huge strike against O Besos is that if you read it too quickly, it looks like an invocation of Jeff Bezos. In truth, the O comes from the horse’s sire, “Orb” (a historically terrible horse name, although he nevertheless won the 2013 Derby) and his dam, Snuggs and Kisses (“besos” is Spanish for “kisses”). I don’t pity the person who found themselves in the position of trying to come up with a traditional racehorse name that paid tribute to both “Orb” and “Snuggs and Kisses” — and “O Besos” is about the best possible result, especially when “Spherical Snuggs” was potentially also on the table.

Hidden Stash

Odds based on name alone: 15/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: If you think this name is about pot, well, it’s not not about pot. “My brothers all give me a hard time because they thought it was a reference to [marijuana], and it happens to be that my birthday is on April 20, so I’m 4/20,” owner Braxton Lynch told the Courier-Journal. He added, “Our button has a pouch of gold coins hidden in the straw, so that’s the reference we’re going with.” Uh-huh. While I admire the thought process that led to giving an extremely expensive racehorse a name that is probably a 420 joke, the crossover between teenagers who will find this funny and people who watch the Kentucky Derby seems relatively … small.

Hot Rod Charlie

Odds based on name alone: 10/1

Actual odds: 8/1

Analysis: I’ve got to respect the rare horse whose name was obviously tested out first. “One of my partners who came up with the name said he just wanted to hear [track announcer] Trevor Denman yelling his name, ‘Hot Rod Charlie,’ coming down the stretch because he thought it would sound cool,” co-owner Greg Helm told the Courier-Journal. It would! But what’s even cooler is that Hot Rod Charlie’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, reached out to Stephen Panus, the president of America’s Best Racing, and his wife, Kellie, who tragically lost their 16-year-old son Jake in a car accident last summer; O’Neill wanted to honor Jake, who’d planned to attend the University of South Carolina, as well as bring awareness to his parent’s campaign to raise money for the Jake Panus Walk-on Football Endowed Scholarship at the school, and offered to create a horse blanket for Hot Rod Charlie bearing the South Carolina logo, This Is Horse Racing reports. A good name and an even better story? That’ll always be a winner.

Sainthood

Odds based on name alone: 10/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: I know, I know, I’ve already trashed spiritual horse names in Medina Spirit’s entry. And Sainthood comes from a barn full of horses with names related to Elliott Walden’s faith, including Creator, New Testament, and Benediction. Sainthood, though, stands out from the crowd for sounding like something Kanye West would name a racehorse. Yeezy season approaching, and this monster about to come alive again.

Known Agenda

Odds based on name alone: 8/1

Actual odds: 6/1

Analysis: A lot of horse names like to play with the idea of the animal being a surprise contender — like Upset, the only horse to ever beat Man O’ War. But when it comes to placing a bet, I don’t like mysteries. Or Mysterious. I want a horse with a good, firm name, and a known agenda sounds good to me.

Keepmeinmind

Odds based on name alone: 7/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: Naming a racehorse is actually more complicated than you’d think. You can’t give a horse a name that’s already currently in use, or is more than 18 characters long including spaces, or is vulgar or potentially offensive (although that didn’t stop “Blow Me” from getting through in 1945). Though Keepmeinmind wouldn’t have been at risk of violating character count if he’d been named the more legible Keep Me In Mind, the name comes from the great racehorse tradition of no-space names resulting from the rule, like “Shutthefrontdoor” and “Wheredoesthecashgo.” According to the Lexington Herald Leader, Keepmeinmind’s name was a result of the farm manager being a “big country music fan, of the Zac Brown Band in particular. He loved their song ‘Keep Me In Mind‘ and asked if the colt could be named after the song.” While I didn’t know the song beforehand, I like the way Keepmeinmind reads like a breathless blurt. Keep this one in mind.

Highly Motivated

Odds based on name alone: 5/1

Actual odds: 10/1

Analysis: Unlike the inflated names “Dynamic One” or “Rock Your World,” there is something hilariously “you tried your best” about Highly Motivated that makes it endearing. Although the phrase sounds like something a teacher would write encouragingly on the report card of a B- student, it’s apparently a part of a theme of “business-related names” by the owner, according to the Courier-Journal, including Cloud Computing, Digital Age, Domestic Spending, and Network Effort — all of which are so hideously awful that they make Highly Motivated look even better.

Helium

Odds based on name alone: 5/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: Helium floated right to the top of this year’s list of horse names. The lighter-than-air suggestion works well for a beast of speed, while also not managing to be so self-serious as to avoid the immediate association with a kid’s squeaky voice after inhaling a party balloon. Apparently it took the owners going to “the periodic table to find something that was lighter than air” in order to name Helium, so we also really dodged the bullets of “Diborane” and “Acetylene” and “Carbon Monoxide” with this one.

Soup and Sandwich

Odds based on name alone: 3/1

Actual odds: 30/1

Analysis: In all my years of ranking the names of Kentucky Derby contenders, I’ve never encountered anything as beautiful and pure and obviously low-effort as this horse that’s literally just named “Soup and Sandwich.” He’s owned by the granddaughter of the Campbell Soup founder, and blah blah blah — look, what’s really important here is that I only want good things for this colt. I love this big, expensive, hungry animal immensely. I am furious that his owner thinks the name is “stupid,” and I hope S&S is becoming financially independent from her by securing a sponsorship with Panera Bread, because I’ve never craved a pick-two combo meal more. Keep your Secretariats and your American Pharoahs; Soup and Sandwich is my king.

Source: The 2021 Kentucky Derby horse names, ranked

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