What's in a name? By which I mean, would the victory of a racehorse with just any ol' name sound as sweet as those of "ARRRRR," "Potoooooooo," or "Odor in the Court" (all of which are very real racehorse names, by the way)? This year, much of the chatter surrounding the 144th annual Kentucky Derby, has centered around morning-line favorite Justify, an undefeated 3-year-old chestnut colt. But what does the name Justify mean?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word "justify" as a transitive verb meaning, most commonly, "to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable." The word can also be defined as "To defend or uphold as warranted or well-grounded," according to Dictionary.com.
WinStar Farm, which co-owns Justify with the China Horse Club, reportedly prefers to stick with one-word or short two-word names when naming their racehorses, according to the Washington Post. Names that are catchy or hold subtle meaning are also preferred. WinStar Farm's other entries in Saturday's Kentucky Derby race are Audible and Noble Indy. The farm also likes to name their racehorses after notable members of the horse's bloodline or members of the farm's family.
It's not immediately clear, however, what exactly drew WinStar Farm to the name Justify. His profile on the Kentucky Derby's official website does note that Justify's nickname "at the barn" is Big Red, a likely nod to the horse's impressive size.
But according to the Washington Post, there are actually some ground rules for naming racehorses. Names can be up to 18 characters and it's worth noting that both spaces and punctuation count as characters. Names cannot include initials, numbers, or the name of a track or stakes race. Nor can names end in a "horse-related term" like "filly," "colt," "mare," or "stallion."
When naming your racehorse you can't use the name of a living person without that person's written permission. Nor can you use the name of a dead person without the approval of the Jockey Club. A racehorse can't be given a name "with clear commercial or artistic value" or which might be deemed obscene, vulgar, or "in poor taste." Owners are also prohibited from bestowing their racehorses with names that are "identical or nearly identical" to those of other accomplished horses "within certain time frames."
While Justify holds the best odds at 7-2 going into Saturday's Kentucky Derby, some say he might ultimately be kept from crossing the finish line first by "the Apollo Curse." The curse refers to the fact that a horse who wasn't raced at 2 years old hasn't won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo thundered his way to victory in 1882. Neither Justify or Magnum Moon, another derby contender, were raced as 2-year-olds, the Los Angeles Times has reported. According to the Kentucky Derby's official website, Justify began his racing career at age 3.
Justify's breeder, John D. Gunther of Glennwood Farm, has described the colt as "a man against boys if you look at him physically" in comments to the Washington Post, adding that he was "about as perfect as you’ll ever see."
"If you were paying attention to Vino Rosso," Gunther said, "Justify would give you that look: 'Hey, what about me?' He would walk over like he was the king. And he knew he was. You could tell in the paddock, the way he looked at you, the way he strutted around. He knew he was the cat's meow. He really did."
Justify will join a field of 19 other horses racing at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday for "the most exciting two minutes in sports."