Here's How This Kentucky Derby Favorite Got Its Name From A Historic Music Composer

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Saturday, May 5 marked the running of the 144th Kentucky Derby, and if you're a fan of horse racing, or simply a fan of spectacle and ceremony, you won't want to miss it. And whether you're a longtime fan or a casual observer, one part of the Derby that always inspires some curiosity is how the horses get their often odd, creative names. For example: what does the name Mendelssohn mean, and will that name soon be etched into Kentucky Derby history?

Fortunately, owners are typically pretty willing to talk to the media about why they chose particular names for their horses, especially when a particular one manages to make the field at the Kentucky Derby, racing's premiere event. And Mendelssohn's owners ― Michael Tabor, Sue Magnier, and Michael Smith ― are apparently no exceptions.

As The Lexington Herald Ledger detailed on Thursday, the trio of owners decided to name the horse Mendelssohn after Felix Mendelssohn, a renowned 19th century German composer and pianist. This is in keeping with their habit of naming many of their horses after famous or historical people or places; according to the Ledger, they've also named horses after George Washington and Galileo, among others.

Mendelssohn is considered, according to both racing analysts and the betting odds heading into Saturday, to be one of the favorites to end the Kentucky Derby in the winner's circle. He'll have some stiff competition, however, thanks to the likes of Justify, Audible, and My Boy Jack. There are 20 horses in all that will be participating in the race, and each one of them will be angling to gallop across the finish line ahead of its peers.

The average Kentucky Derby race lasts about two minutes; last year's winner, Always Dreaming, finished with a winning time of 2:03:59. The Kentucky Derby is more or less the most celebrated and high-profile event of the year for the sport of horse racing, which means Mendelssohn could etch his name into history with a strong performance.

It's worth noting that if Mendelssohn wins ― or indeed, whatever horse wins ― that won't be the end of the intrigue. The Kentucky Derby is just the first of a three-race set that comprises what's known as the Triple Crown, followed by the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness. Whichever horse leaves Churchill Downs race track on Saturday as the winner will almost surely begin preparations to race in the Belmont Stakes, and if he wins that race, then the Preakness, as well.

A horse that manages to win all three races is said to have won the Triple Crown. It's a very rare distinction, having happened only 12 times before, and until American Pharoah pulled it off in 2015 there'd been a decades-long drought.

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In short, there's going to be a ton of competition when the race begins, and if previous years are any indication, a lot of drama, too. If you're interested in watching the Kentucky Derby as it unfolds, you'll want to clear some time from your schedule on Saturday afternoon ― the race is scheduled to begin at 6:34 p.m. ET, or for all you west coast viewers out there, 3:34 p.m. PT.

Given just how short the race is, however, and how hotly anticipated, you don't want to take any chances about missing it. So if you're planning to watch, whether on TV or online, maybe think about settling in a few minutes early, like at 6:30 p.m. ET. And if you're wondering where to watch, it'll be broadcast by NBC, and will be available for streaming through the NBC Sports app.