High hopes, history ride on a name PREAKNESS '93

May 14, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

He stands about 7 feet tall, weighs more than 1,000 pounds and can outrun a poorly tuned Ford Escort.

So who's going to make fun of Rockamundo's name?

Like all 12 horses scheduled to run in Saturday's Preakness Stakes race, Rockamundo has a name that reflects the idiosyncrasies of his background and owner.

"Rockamundo" is derived from the horse's feisty nature, according to trainer Ben Glass. The thoroughbred has a habit of rearing up on his hind legs and "hitting" people with his front hooves which led to the nickname "Rocky," for the fighter that Sylvester Stallone played in the movies.

The rest of the name, Mr. Glass said, was just something that popped into the head of owner Mary West.

Naming thoroughbred horses has always been a whimsical, though highly regulated, art form. The names must adhere to the rules of the Jockey Club, which maintains a 1.9 million-name registry for thoroughbreds in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

According to Jockey Club rules, a name can be no longer than 18 characters, including spaces and pronunciations (which is why you get funny spellings like "Bull inthe Heather"). Numbers over 30 are OK, but they must be spelled out. Numbers under 30 are verboten. Vulgar or suggestive names are forbidden.

A name can't be too similar to those used by any of the 630,000 horses now racing or breeding in North America. Names of all but the most famous horses can be reused, but with restrictions. The last horse to use it must be either dead or out of racing and breeding.

A horse can be named after a living person, but only with written permission. A filly named Barbara Bush was registered in 1989. Dead people are fair game, as long as they are not notorious. No Adolph Hitlers or Al Capones, please. And the use of song titles or other copyrighted materials must be approved by the copyright holder.

"We've gotten so frustrated with the Jockey Club, where we would send up 30 names and they would reject them, that we just began picking up the road map and grabbing names off it," said trainer and owner D. Wayne Lukas. His Preakness entry, Union City, is named for a city in Michigan.

"I don't think the name makes too much difference with the fillies, butyou have to be awfully careful with the studs," he said. A good name can help when it comes to marketing a horse for stud duty, he said.

At the opposite end of that spectrum is Ben Perkins Jr., trainer of Woods Of Windsor. "I've never seen a good horse with a bad name. I've gotten funny about names," he said.

His entry this year draws his name from the favorite perfume of its owner, Mrs. Augustus Riggs IV, and the horse's father, Woodman.

Prairie Bayou, a probable favorite in Saturday's Preakness Stakes race, gets his name from an area in Arkansas, the home of owner John Ed Anthony. Late entrant Hegar's trainers say the name has roots in opera -- his mother was named Opera Diva -- perhaps a character related to a God of Thunder.

Koluctoo Jimmy Al, one of the more complicated names in racing, also has a complicated lineage. It combines the names of two friends of owner Basil Plasteras, Jimmy "Jimmy Al" Albano and Vince "Jimbo" Bracciale Jr., with the horse's mother, Koluctfully.

Names that reflect pedigree are common in racing, reflecting the importance of lineage in the sport. Preakness starters Too Wild and Wild Gale are both sons of a horse called Wild Again. Sea Hero's parents are Polish Navy and Glowing Tribute. Cherokee Run is the result of the mating of Runaway Groom with Cherokee Dame.

Personal Hope was named after owner Lee Lewis read the phrase somewhere and thought it was a good horse name, according to trainer Mark Hennig.

El Bakan's name reflects his roots in Panama, where he spent much of his career. The name is a corruption of "boca," Spanish for "mouth." In Panamanian slang, El Bakan means big talker or hustler.

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