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Jockey club rides herd on clever horse names

That horses named Bird commanded so much attention in this year's Triple Crown series, right through to Mine That Bird's third-place finish and Summer Bird's surprise victory in yesterday's 141st running of the Belmont Stakes, again raised the question of how thoroughbreds come by their often exotic handles.

Not only have Belmont champions carried such eclectic tags as Peter Pan, Needles, and Thunder Gulch over the decades, but there also were - on yesterday's 12-race Belmont Day program - equine runners named Knife and Fork, Slam Dunk, Radical Sabbatical and Doremifasollatido.

And, out there somewhere - topically - there is a horse named Too Big to Fail. Another named Big Three, a Stimulus Package, a Bail Out, a Foreclosure, a Downsized, a Twitter, an e-mail. Even a Ponzi scheme.

To assure there are no confusing duplications or inappropriate allusions, but otherwise leaving owners to their clever imaginations, the Jockey Club has been recording and monitoring racehorse names for 113 years. Almost 40,000 names a year come across the desk of registrar Rick Bailey, the man in charge of that Jockey Club system.

And, though the vast majority of names are "released" for re-use after a horse reaches the age of 11 and has not raced or been bred during the previous five years - among the recently released are President Hillary and Joe Cool - there are a goodly number of "permanent" names that are retired from further use, such as Hall of Famers and champions of Triple Crown races.

There can never be another Secretariat, for example. (Nor, in fact, a Trigger or Silver; but, surprisingly, the name Mr. Ed is available, although it was suggested that a horse would have to personally ask for that one.)

Bailey confirmed that, roughly half the time, names reference a horse's pedigree - often with sly puns or nutty combinations of the parents' names. Thus, this season's star, who is the son of Birdstone and Mining My Own, goes by Mine That Bird. (In the mid-90s, hilariously, a colt sired by Judge Smells was christened Odor in the Court - Bailey's all-time favorite moniker.)

In yesterday's Belmont field, besides Mine That Bird, other junior-like names were Summer Bird, also an offspring of Birdstone; Chocolate Candy, whose father was Candy Ride; Flying Private, son of Fusaichi Pegasus - Pegasus being the mythical flying horse.

Then there was Luv Gov, whose name was ripped from a tabloid headline shouting the news that Eliot Spitzer, then New York's chief executive, was a customer of a high-priced prostitution ring. That's the other major source of thoroughbred names: the mix of popular culture, news events and owner's subsequent witticisms.

In the wake of the controversial 2000 presidential election, there was a flood of name takes on the attendant political gyrations - among them Count the Chads, Dangling Chad, Electoral College, and Florida Recount. The series finale of "Seinfeld" brought out Serenity Now, Yada Yada Yada, Nosupeforyou, Hello Newman and Low Talker, among others.

But here's a current-events name that, depressingly, is available: Jobless.


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