What Does The Name Gun Runner Mean? The Kentucky Derby Horse Is Violently Named

Last year, American Pharaoh won the Kentucky Derby. He was owned by Ahmed Zayat, an Egyptian-American citizen who moved to the United States for college at 18 and eventually decided to make his life here. The year before, California Chrome won; he was bred in California. You see where I'm going here: Normally, the names make some sense. But not always. There's some owners who keep naming his horses after violent gun terms. They don't seem to be pushing an NRA agenda, though, so it's all very confusing. This year's oddest entrant is Gun Runner — so what does the Kentucky Derby horse's name mean?

In the dictionary — Merriam-Webster, for example — "gunrunner," one word, means "one that traffics in contraband arms and ammunition." The horse's name is split into two, but the meaning doesn't suffer for a lack of proofreading on whatever the horse's equivalent of a birth certificate is. The owner, Ron Winchell, however, supposedly just "wanted a name with a kick." That's what the manager of Winchell Thoroughbreds, told The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky. So what gives?

It's not the first time this has happened. The paper pointed to Arnold Zetcher's 2015 Derby runner-up, Firing Line. In case you don't know, a firing line is the place where a line of soldiers shoot from in battle. Maybe there has to be one per year?

In any case, these names are not exactly Shadow or Punky — the names my family gave horses growing up. Even among thoroughbreds, it seems an anomaly. Others from this Derby's field are quite G-rated by comparison. The other 19 have names like "Creator," "Mor Spirit," and "Majesto."

A closer look at the owners doesn't give you much of a clue. The names of their past entrants range from sex-positive, "Tapit," to well, I guess the opposite with, "Untapable." Where "Tapizar" and "Tapiture" fit on that spectrum is a mystery.

The founder of Winchell Thoroughbreds, Verne Winchell, passed away in 2002. He was known as "The Donut King" for a chain of doughnut restaurants he started. So if anything, he trafficked in happy mornings — not arms or ammunition — and that was reflected in the name of his first successful thoroughbred, who won the Champagne Stakes and California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Sales Stakes in 1961. His name? None other than "Donut King." Winchell's wife, Joan, and son Ron have carried on the family tradition of racing horses since his death.