Famous Derby Horse Names and Meanings

Ever wonder how racehorses get their names? You’re not alone! Derby horse names have some of the most unique and sometimes puzzling names in the horse industry.  I distinctly remember going to a horse race as a child and finding out that the winning horse was named “Couch.” 

In this article, I’ll be discussing some famous Kentucky Derby winners and the meanings behind their names! These horses include Secretariat, Smarty Jones, Barbaro, and American Pharoah.

Derby Horse Names: Secretariat

Many people know the name Secretariat.  Secretariat was one of the few horses to win the elite Triple Crown title, and his bloodlines are in a high percentage of American Thoroughbreds today.  Secretariat was owned and loved by Penny Tweedy in the 1970s. 

Penny submitted many names for her red colt to the jockey club, including Scepter, Royal Line, SomethingSpecial, Games of Chance, and Deo Volente.  The jockey club rejected all of these names. Penny’s secretary, Elizabeth Ham, was fond of the red colt and suggested the name Secretariat (i.e.- of a secretary).  The jockey club accepted the name that is now renowned in the racing world.


Derby Horse Names: Smarty Jones

In the early 2000s, a liver chestnut stallion stole the hearts of the derby community.  “Smarty Jones” was known for being clever, stubborn, and fast. He was owned by Pam Chapman and would win the Kentucky Derby in 2004. Pam named Smarty Jones after a nickname she used for her “headstrong” mother, because of his stubborn and clever personality.



Two years after Smarty Jones won the derby, a horse named Barbaro took the title.  After his Derby win, Barbaro sustained a leg injury that would tragically end up in his euthanasia a few months later.

Barbaro had an entire country cheering on his recovery; he received lots of fan mail and was the face of many posters, ads, and campaigns.  Barbaro was even recreated as a Breyer model horse in the years following his euthanasia. But, where did his name come from?

Barbaro’s owner, Gretchen Jackson, named him and his siblings after foxhounds in a painting that she owned.  Foxhounds assist horses and hunters in foxhunting, which has been a popular equine sport for centuries in both Europe and America.  


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Derby Horse Names: American Pharoah

Everyone knows this famous name! American Pharoah won not only the Kentucky Derby but the entire Triple Crown in 2015.  The beautiful bay stallion captured the hearts of the nation as the first winner of the triple crown in almost forty years.

But, something looked funny about his name. Owned by Zyat Stables at the time, American Pharoah’s name was chosen from a list of fan-submitted suggestions on their website.  The family is American with Egyptian heritage, so it seemed like a perfect fit.  

The submission came from Marsha Baumgartner, who claims to have spell-checked the words before her submission. The correct spelling of the word is “Pharaoh” instead of “Pharoah,” so the “o” and the “a” are switched in American Pharoah’s name. 



Racehorses seem to get their names from all over the place! I hope this article helped you learn where some of the most famous racehorses got their names, and what they mean! If so, please share this article, and share with us your horse-naming stories!

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