The definitive (and totally arbitrary) list of best Kentucky Derby horse names

In keeping with Will Rogers’ quip – “A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries” – here follows an arbitrary, arguable and unlikely-to-create-converts list of the top 10 names of Kentucky Derby horses:     

10. American Eagle 

Jockey Club rules prohibit the recycling of the names of Kentucky Derby winners, but the names of also-rans are often available. American Eagle is the only name bestowed on two different Derby horses. The first American Eagle was the first Derby mount of Hall of Fame jockey Earle Sande in 1918. The second, in 1944, was the only Derby mount of Jess Higley. Both American Eagles finished last.

9. Die Hard

In early 1959, both Die Hard and Bruce Willis were 3-year-olds. "Die Hard" the film would propel Willis to stardom and has spawned four sequels. Die Hard the horse finished 16th in a field of 17 in the 1959 Derby. Yippee ki-ay.

8. Johnstown 

In 1939, the 50th anniversary of the catastrophic Johnstown Flood, a bay colt bearing the Pennsylvania town’s name became the second of four horses to win the Derby by eight lengths, still the largest margin of victory in the history of the race. Two of the four eight-length winners – Whirlaway (1941) and Assault (1946) – went on to win the Triple Crown.

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7. Thirty Six Red

Named for the highest number on a roulette wheel, Thirty Six Red was Mike Smith’s second Derby mount and finished an uninspired ninth in 1990. Which brings us to one of the Jockey Club’s more arcane rules for naming thoroughbreds: Names consisting entirely of numbers are prohibited, but numbers above thirty may be used if they are spelled out.

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