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Racehorses Named After People

Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist is named for hockey player Gustav Nyquist
Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist is named for hockey player Gustav Nyquist

There is a story behind every racehorse name, even if that story is as simple as combining the name of the horse's sire and dam. Many owners and breeders choose to name their horses in honor of a person they love or admire - family members, friends, athletes, and so on. This post tells the stories of five racehorses named after people: Cody's Wish, Dr. Fager, Frankel, Nyquist, and Rachel Alexandra.

Cody’s Wish - Cody Dorman

The story behind the racehorse Cody’s Wish can make even the toughest people weep. Cody’s Wish is named for Cody Dorman, a teenage boy who was born with Wolf-Hirschorn syndrome, a rare genetic condition that confines him to a wheelchair, gives him frequent seizures, and prevents him from speaking. Dorman and his family were given the opportunity to visit Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm as part of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and there Dorman immediately bonded with a six-month-old foal.

That foal, a young son of Curlin, gently placed his head on Dorman’s lap. That display of love and understanding from the young horse touched the hearts of both the Godolphin crew and the Dorman family. The following year, Godolphin called the Dormans and asked if they could name that special foal - who was then a yearling - after Cody. The family graciously accepted and the name Cody’s Wish was registered with the Jockey Club.

Cody’s Wish wasn’t an immediate success on the track; he failed to win his first three starts, though his third-place finish in each of those races proved he did not lack the talent. Cody Dorman had a feeling that Cody the horse needed him to be there in order to win, so the Dormans attended the horse’s fourth race at Churchill Downs. Just as Cody Dorman said, Cody’s Wish finally won.

The horse has hardly stopped winning either. He’s only lost twice since that maiden-breaking performance, racking up wins in prestigious races like the Forego (G1), Breeders Cup Dirt Mile (G1), Churchill Downs Stakes (G1), and Met Mile (G1). His combined story and accomplishments inspired so many people that he was voted the winner of the Secretariat Vox Populi Award which “recognizes the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing.”

Each time Cody’s Wish crosses the finish line first, one thing is clear - he did it for Cody Dorman.

Dr. Fager - Dr. Charles Anthony Fager

John A. Nerud is a Hall of Fame trainer known for conditioning Champions Intentionally, Ta Wee, and Dr. Patches. He was also a founding member of the Breeders’ Cup Championships. Nerud’s most famed accomplishment as a trainer came in the form of the horse Dr. Fager, who was named in honor of Dr. Charles Anthony Fager, a neurosurgeon who saved Nerud's life after a fall from a horse caused him serious injury.

Dr. Fager was an exceptional racehorse. He won 18 of his 22 starts between 1966 and 1968. In 1968 he became the first horse to ever win four championship titles in one year as he was named Horse of the Year, Champion Sprinter, Champion Older Male, and Champion Turf Horse. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971 and is considered one of the greatest horses of all time.

Frankel - Bobby Frankel

It is very fitting that the revered racehorse and stallion Frankel is named after one of the best trainers in the history of horse racing, Robert “Bobby” Frankel. Bobby Frankel won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 1993, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. He was also the Champion Trainer by Earnings in 1993, 2002, and 2003. He won a whopping 25 Grade 1 races in 2003, a record for the most Grade/Group 1 wins in a single season that would stand until Aidan O’Brien broke it in 2017. His notable trainees include Empire Maker, Ghostzapper, Wild Desert, Squirtle Squirt, Peace Rules, and Milwaukee Brew among others.

Frankel the horse won all fourteen of his races, 10 of which were Group 1s, with astonishing ease. He was - and still is - considered to be one of the world’s best racehorses. Frankel has also been flourishing at stud; he has sired over 30 Grade/Group 1 winners so far in his career, all of whom help carry on the legacy of both their sire and the outstanding trainer he was named for.

Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Bobby’s Kitten is also named after Bobby Frankel.

Nyquist - Gustav Nyquist

Many horses have been named after the human athletes that their breeders or owners admire. Paul Reddam, owner of Reddam Racing LLC, is a loyal fan of the Detroit Red Wings and thus names some of his horses after the hockey team’s players. In 2015 he named a promising bay colt Nyquist in honor of the Red Wings’ Gustav Nyquist.

Nyquist the horse proved to be quite the athlete himself. His undefeated juvenile season that featured three Grade 1 wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, made him the clear winner for the Eclipse Award for Champion Two-Year-Old Colt.

He carried that championship form into the first half of his second and final season of racing, remaining unbeaten as he swept the San Vicente (G2), Florida Derby (G1), and Kentucky Derby (G1). He did not enter the winner’s circle again after the run for the roses, though he was third in the Preakness (G1) and 4th in the Haskell (G1), and because of this he lost Champion Three-Year-Old Colt honors to the slower-to-bloom but very impressive Arrogate.

Nevertheless, Nyquist’s eight victories - wins in some of the sport’s most coveted races - made him a horse that will be remembered eternally.

Rachel Alexandra - Rachel Alexandra

If you ask a group of people who their all-time favorite racemare is you’re guaranteed to have at least one of them say Rachel Alexandra. The beautiful bay filly with a unique face took hold of horse racing with three sensational years of racing and though she has been retired much longer than the time she was on the track, that hold still lingers.

Rachel Alexandra was named for her breeder and first owner Dolphus Morrison’s granddaughter.

Rachel Alexandra was not an immediate rockstar, though two graded placings by November of her freshman season on the track proved she had talent. A jockey change to Calvin Borel for the Golden Rod (G1) seemed to give the filly the ability to really shine; she romped by 4 ¾ lengths in stakes record time, marking the first in what would be a nine-race win streak.

She dominated every race leading up to the 2009 Kentucky Oaks and, in the Oaks itself, she put on a performance that the world will never forget. No filly could even come close to threatening Rachel Alexandra’s chance to wear a blanket of lilies; she was far and above the best of the group, sprinting home to a soul-shaking 20 ¼ length victory.

That was still just the first half of her career. With no filly seeming capable of beating her, Rachel Alexandra faced the boys in the Preakness Stakes. Borel had also ridden the Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird to victory but chose to climb aboard the filly for the second leg of the Triple Crown. Together Rachel and Borel beat all the boys to the wire, making her just the fifth filly to ever do so.

She next won the Mother Goose (G1) by 19 ¼ lengths in stakes record time, then faced the boys again for both the prestigious Haskell (G1) and Woodward (G1), each time coming home victorious. She was the obvious choice for both Horse of the Year and Champion Three-Year-Old Filly honors by the end of 2009.

Though she wasn’t as powerful in 2010, Rachel Alexandra still won the Fleur de Lis (G2) and Lady’s Secret Stakes and never finished worse than second in five starts. Today she is regarded as one of the best mares to ever step foot on the track.


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