The Kentucky Derby is one of the most popular horse races in the United States, if not the world. Held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, the competition is a Grade I stakes race that sees three-year-old thoroughbreds run a distance of one and a quarter miles.
Aside from being an incredibly entertaining event, the Kentucky Derby is also rich in history and tradition. For starters, it’s the longest-running sporting event in the US, with the first race taking place in 1875.
Other traditions include statement hats and mint juleps, however, the best tradition has to be the naming of the horses. The Kentucky Derby is known for the greatest horse names ever. So much so, in preparation for Kentucky Derby 2023, we’re going to look at the very best.
In this post, you’ll find a list of the 5 greatest Kentucky horse names of all time. Let’s take a look!
1. Spectacular Bird
The first horse name we have for you is Spectacular Bird. Spectacular Bird didn’t just have an awesome name, he was also an impressive stallion that won 26 out of the 30 races it raced in.
Winning almost $3 million dollars, which was a record at the time, Spectacular Bird was a champion throughout the 1978 season. The stallion won the Kentucky Derby in 1979. Ronnie Franklin, Spectacular Bird’s jockey, won the Kentucky Derby on his debut.
Other well-known races this horse won include the Champagne Stakes, the Marlboro Cup, and the Preakness Stakes. In 1980, Spectacular Bird won 9 races in a row, which saw the horse win American Horse of The Year for that year.
2. Genuine Risk
Genuine Risk is one of only three fillies to ever win the Kentucky Derby. The other two were Winning Colors in 1988 and Regret in 1915, both of which also have epic names. Genuine Risk won the Kentucky Derby in 1980 becoming the second filly to win the famed event.
Ridden by Jacinto Vasquez, Genuine Risk went on to do well in other races too, finishing second in the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes. An interesting story that surrounds this horse is how it finished second in a very controversial Preakness Stakes race.
Genuine Risk was bumped, carried, and hit in the face by eventual winner Codex. Despite debates to see Genuine Risk awarded the crown, Codex was still declared the winner. Genuine Risk won more than $600,000 in her career.
3. Smarty Jones
The next horse on our list is Smarty Jones. Smarty Jones is another Kentucky Derby horse that had a fantastic name and a successful career. Ridden by jockey Stewart Elliot, Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby in 2004, along with the Preakness Stakes.
Smarty Jones ended a decades-long wait when he became the first undefeated horse to win the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977. Interestingly, Elliot also became the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby on a debut race since Ronnie Franklin on Spectacular Bird in 1979.
This stallion was named after Milly “Smarty Jones” McNair, the co-owners mother. When it came to career winnings, Smarty Jones won a whopping $7.6 million.
4. Die Hard
Despite seemingly taking inspiration from the movies, Die Hard didn’t get its name from the Bruce Willis action film. We know this because Die Hard raced in 1959, 30 years before the first Die Hard film came out.
That doesn’t stop this horse from having a cool name though. Born in 1956, sired by Never Say Die, and trained by Joe Bollero, Die Hard didn’t have much success as a racehorse, but he certainly had one of the greatest names.
Die Hard only ever raced in the Kentucky Derby once. That was in 1959 when Die Hard sadly finished 16th. The winner that year was Tomy Lee.
5. American Pharoah
The final Kentucky Derby horse on our list is American Pharoah. As far as the greatest names go, this one takes some beating. American Pharoah was an extremely successful racehorse, so it’s probably fair to say the name suits.
Winning more than $8 million in his career, this stallion has won a wide range of famous races. This includes the 2015 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. In fact, American Pharoah is one of a select few horses that’s won the Triple Crown.
American Pharoah also won the Breeder’s Cup, Rebel Stakes, and Haskell Invitational amongst a few others. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that this horse also won American Horse of the Year.
That concludes our list of the 5 greatest Kentucky horse names of all time. Whilst there are other names that could’ve squeezed their way onto this list, we strongly believe that the 5 we’ve shown you are the very best.
Not all the horses on our list had the most success when it came to racing in the Kentucky Derby but most of them are some of the best racehorses the event has ever seen.
If this list is anything to go off, we look forward to seeing the names and winners of the Kentucky Derby in the future.