The Kentucky Derby is known for big hats, mint juleps, winning bets, and upset picks. But, the race also regularly features the best horse names around.
Below, we rank out the all-time best Kentucky Derby horse names alongside the top titles from the 2023 Derby field:
The Best Kentucky Derby Horse Names Of All-Time
It's hard to narrow down almost 150 years of Derby horses into a list of the best names of all time. But, taking into account comedy, witty references, and a certain je ne sais quoi, here's my list of the eight best Kentucky Derby horse names:
8. Mucho Macho Man (2011)
By the names that follow, you'll see I'm a sucker for alliteration. This name was fitting, as Mucho Macho Man grew into one of the biggest horses in the 2011 Derby field, standing over 17 hands (68 inches) tall. MMM also started a line of great horse names, with his son Mucho Gusto winning the 2020 Pegasus World Cup.
7. Col. Hogan (1911)
Though this horse raced 30 years before World War II, the name reminds me of the 1960s WWII sitcom Hogan's Heroes, and the lead character Colonel Robert E. Hogan. I always thought Sgt. Schultz was the funniest character, though.
6. Die Hard (1959)
The best part about this name is it isn't even based on the Bruce Willis movie series, which wouldn't debut for 29 years. The phrase "die hard" comes from some 1800s war hero who shouted it to encourage his men after taking an artillery round to the chest. That's a winner's mentality.
It is a shame this horse didn't get to match up against another named Hans Gruber, though.
5. Sinister Minister (2006)
One of legendary trainer Bob Baffert's best horses, Sinister Minister was a serious threat for the 2006 Triple Crown but had a rough showing at the 2006 Derby, finishing 16th. Bad result, great name.
4. Messier (2022)
This name's got championship pedigree, as Messier is named after the six-time Stanley Cup Champion Mark Messier. The horse's owner, Tom Ryan, was the son-in-law of former Oilers forward Pat Hughes. So there’s a connection to the Alberta NHL team Messier won a few of those Cups with.
Sound on 🔊— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) May 7, 2022
Named after 6 time Stanley Cup winner, Mark Messier, Messier (the horse) is looking to carry on the name’s winning tradition today. #KyDerby pic.twitter.com/tYj7ltx03G
3. Jambalaya Jazz (1995)
More alliteration! And this is some of the best. It doesn't look like JJ ever had the opportunity to race at the New Orleans Fair Grounds, but it's safe to assume the horse would've dominated in Louisiana.
2. Soup and Sandwich (2021)
More food-based alliteration? This grey colt had one of the most interesting Derby races in recent memory. S&S got out to an early lead, pushing favorite Medina Spirit around the first turn, but then burned through all his energy too soon and eventually fell back to last place. Some say sandwich sales plummeted in the Kentucky area for the six months following the race.
1. Any Given Saturday (2007)
This witty sports movie reference is a derby spin on the 1999 classic Any Given Sunday. To quote Al Pacino:
climb outta hell *win the Kentucky Derby* one inch at a time."
This Year's Top Kentucky Derby Horse Names
There may not be any all-time names in the 2023 Kentucky Derby field, but here are three horse names that stand out:
I'm not sure if this is inspired by the French word, former Chicago Bears running back, or Kia car, but I like it. It helps that Forte is currently one of the heavy favorites to win the 2023 Kentucky Derby.
2. Derma Sotogake
This Japanese horse is named after a Sumo move in which "the attacker pulls his opponent towards him, hooks his leg, and drives him over backward." Hard to beat that.
1. Blazing Sevens
This name just exudes championship. I picture winning 7/7/7s on a slot machine and the fastest horse alive.