2020 Kentucky Derby horse names, ranked

·8 min read

Down 150,000 fans and three horses, the 146th Kentucky Derby is set for Saturday, some four months delayed from its traditional running on the first weekend in May. While there might be fewer mint juleps and sun hats in the stands this year, as well as an eeriness to the first Run of the Roses outside of May since 1945, just be thankful there's going to be an actual horse race at Churchill Downs and not a televized digital simulation of one.

There's never been a better time, then, to embrace totally illogical superstition and bet on a horse based on nothing more convincing than it's name. Let us present — as we have every year — the real odds of the Kentucky Derby, based on horse names alone. (Art Collector, King Guillermo, and the one-eyed colt Finnick the Fierce have all been scratched from both the race and thus this ranking at the time of writing).

Major Fed

Odds based on name alone: 75/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: I can't get past "Major Fed" sounding like an insult you'd use for a snitch: Ugh, don't be a major fed, man. In truth, it's a lot less exciting: The horse is "named for tennis star Roger Federer," writes the Lexington Herald Leader, which reports the origin of every horse's name in the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Still, that's pretty lame, especially when Major Fed's sire has one of the coolest horse names of all time: Ghostzapper.

Necker Island

Odds based on name alone: 50/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: Necker Island is the horse name equivalent of the word "moist," by which I mean it is gross in a way I can't quite place. Maybe it's because this horse is named after Richard Branson's private island in the British Virgin Islands, which is the sort of obnoxious status-obsessed allusion that only an uber-wealthy person could think was a good idea, or maybe it's because it's so close to "necking," which is the second-worst slang term for "kissing" after "snogging." (It's a shame about the name, too, because Necker Island's owner, Greg Harbut, has one of the most interesting stories at the race this year).

South Bend

Odds based on name alone: 50/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: Paging Pete Buttigieg! Although this horse is named after the Indiana town where the popular Democratic presidential candidate was previously mayor, South Bend's prior owner is not in fact a secret fan of Mayor Pete. In truth, South Bend was named by Under Armour owner Kevin Plank because he really likes Notre Dame football. What's truly alarming is that Plank was also the previous owner (and therefore namer) of Necker Island. Would someone please keep this man away from horses, at least until they've been named?

Money Moves

Odds based on name alone: 50/1

Actual odds: 30/1

Analysis: There's nothing tackier than naming a very expensive animal in a sport for rich people something that has to do with money (though if you've ever spent any time looking at yacht names in an upscale marina, you also know that this is not a deterrent). But, okay, it's hard to be too down on Money Moves since his name comes from Cardi B lyrics. "After [the owner's] winning bid was acknowledged, they played the Cardi B song 'Bodak Yellow' on the sound system," inspiring the name, reports the Lexington Herald Leader. Anyway, I'm looking forward to rooting for a horse named WAP at the Derby in 2023.


Odds based on name alone: 45/1

Actual odds: 8/1

Analysis: Authentic is an immensely forgettable name. It slips instantly from the mind almost as soon as you hear it, like water off a duck's back. When I watch the derby, despite having spent all this time researching his name (which is likely a nod to his dam, Flawless), I'll still be surprised to rediscover that there's a horse named Authentic this year. "Huh. Authentic," I'll think to myself, and then never think about him again.

Winning Impression

Odds based on name alone: 40/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: Seems kind of like tempting fate to stick the word "winning" in the name of your racehorse (not that it's ever stopped anyone). The "Impression" part of the name, though, is actually quite clever: Apparently it's inspired by the horse's sire, Paynter, which led to the painter Monet, which led to his painting, Impression, Sunrise. Still, calling a horse "winning" anything is a little like naming it Zoomzoom Fastanimal: obvious and trying too hard. As a result, I do not in fact get a winning impression from this gelding.

Max Player

Odds based on name alone: 30/1

Actual odds: 30/1

Analysis: This is a basketball allusion (what is it with racehorses constantly being named for unrelated sports?), but like Winning Impression, it seems a little too on-the-nose. I guess MVP was already taken?


Odds based on name alone: 30/1

Actual odds: 30/1

Analysis: There's something just a little bit odd about this name, which suggests something constraining and binding — wouldn't Unenforceable have been a better name for a horse you presumably want to break away?

Honor A.P.

Odds based on name alone: 30/1

Actual odds: 5/1

Analysis: This academic overachiever has a name intended to trace his pedigree: It refers to his sire Honor Code, and his grand-sire, A.P. Indy. But stuck together as they are, the name sounds more like a highlight from an aspiring Ivy Leaguers' resume. It's also a bit of a shame that Honor A.P. didn't get a nod to his dam, Hollywood Story, in his name instead: "Precode Hollywood" would have been a great name for a racehorse.

Attachment Rate

Odds based on name alone: 15/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: I'm not quite sure what an attachment rate actually is, to be honest. The likelihood that I actually remember to attach documents before hitting "send" on a professional email? A measure of my attachment issues on any given day? A marketing term having to do with luxury refrigerators? The boring answer is that it's the last one, although the cheeky possibilities are endless.

Mr. Big News

Odds based on name alone: 8/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: I have a soft spot for horses with names that give away their aspirations to be major headlines, Suddenbreakingnews being an old favorite. This is the first time since the 1930s that the Kentucky Derby isn't the first race in the Triple Crown and with the Belmont Stakes already having been won by my top-pick horse, there probably won't be a chance for Mr. Big News to actually make big news. Still, I'm rooting for him to live up to his name, and I can't write off a horse that demands a proper honorific.

Storm the Court

Odds based on name alone: 8/1

Actual odds: 50/1

Analysis: This is yet another horse with a name that comes from its parents (My Tejana Storm and Court Vision), but it's serendipitously not a nonsense name like many others end up being. While court storming is admittedly another instance of a unrelated sport making its way into horse racing, there's something rather perfect about the exuberant victory celebration it suggests. Plus "storm" is always a safe bet in horse names, while also recalling greats of the sport like Storm Cat and Thunder Gulch.

Thousand Words

Odds based on name alone: 8/1

Actual odds: 15/1

Analysis: Thousand Words is clearly hoping for a photo finish, but he got his name specifically because he's such an attractive horse. "He is gorgeous," Brookdale Farm's Joe Seitz told the Louisville Courier Journal. "He is an absolute movie star." He also comes from one of my favorite nominal lines, with his sire Pioneerof the Nile and Empire Maker before him — a father and grandfather shared by Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah — and a horse named Prettyatthetable on his maternal side.

Ny Traffic

Odds based on name alone: 5/1

Actual odds: 20/1

Analysis: The word "traffic" admittedly might not assure much speed, but if Ny Traffic navigates the track anything like a New York City cabbie — by which I mean, with an apparent death wish and a demonstrated hostility toward the concept of "stoplights" — then this horse could be a real winner.

Sole Volante

Odds based on name alone: 5/1

Actual odds: 30-1

Analysis: Sole Volante means "flying sun" in Italian — an elegant, classic, swift-sounding racehorse name. But as Thoroughbred Daily News notes, this "brilliant name" is also "quite a convergence of different languages," coming from Sole Volante's sire, Karakontie, whose name means "flying sun" in the Mohawk language. Karakontie's name, meanwhile, comes from his dam, Sun Is Up. Good names run in this family!

Tiz the Law

Odds based on name alone: 3/5

Actual odds: 3/5

Analysis: It is a rare thing indeed for the best horse in the race to also have the best name in the race. But Tiz the Law is a clear winner all around. This is another horse with a very traditional name, one honoring its sire, Constitution, and its dam, Tizfiz. Horse racing being the sport of kings, though, there's something thematically fitting about the resulting ring of Tiz the Law, which sounds almost like a disinterested royal dismissal: 'Tis the law, so off with your head. We're all just quivering subjects in Tiz the Law's kingdom: bow down to the best name of them all.

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