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Names that exhilarate
Friday, May 23, 2014 - by Frank Cotolo

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As Captaintreacherous fired an igneous qualifier in his 4-year-old debut on the track, I was once again thrilled by the fact that his very name suggests the rugged, sturdy and mesomorphic nature of a great Standardbred with a name that shouts the exciting and mysterious qualities of adventure.

I was happy to recently discover that John Hervey, an icon of racing journalism, felt the same about racehorse names that exhilerate. It’s something Bob Marks and I have talked about for years and something Bob has added to the sport when naming foals.

Hervey was not crazy about how Standardbreds were named, for the most part. He wrote, “Every manjack that was the proud possessor of a trotter or a pacer exercised the freeman’s privilege of naming it any one way that he liked—and if nobody else liked it, they could just go hang!”

In Hervey’s days, English Thoroughbred naming presented some fine suggestions to rid names that lacked interest. “Name no horse after a living person,” was one piece of advice, “but if you must, take that of some famous fictitious character, some hero or heroine of romance or poetry.”

Also, as Marks develops with unique acumen, “ try to select one [a name] that shall in some way connect up, in either form or meaning, with that of the sire or dam; or better still, those of both parents … using care, taste and judgment … to choose a name that is extremely appropriate and beyond criticism.”

Titles for books and movies and other entertainment products are mulled over relentlessly so they supply a built-in provocation, one that entices and inspires attention. James Bond-creator Ian Fleming spent more time caring for the titles his famous novels than he did typing out chapters. Ernest Hemingway perniciously stalled delivering his literature-altering novel until he eventually titled it “The Sun Also Rises.”

“It is no joke,” wrote Hervey, “it is a solemn and expensive fact that filling the books of record of the Standard breed and the turf press and daily newspapers with thousands upon thousands of these [humdrum] names has cost the sport, directly and indirectly, thousands of dollars—as well as caused such a bewildering and staggering mass of reportorial, typographical and other errors as surpasses computation.”

So I become a devouring fan, moved more deeply than the bettor in me, when I see a great pacing or trotting monster claw forward with the graceful strength and muscles of stone. Anyone can hear me as my thrills are absorbed to my nerve endings because I am shouting …

… as I do when I see Captaintreacherous!

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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

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