A Kentucky Derby horse is named after Tony Danza


Exercise rider Ezequiel Perez takes Kentucky Derby hopeful Danza for a morning workout at Churchill Downs. (Morry Gash/AP)

Update: Tony Danza is a confirmed guest of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.

It’s not the way horse racing experts do it, but picking a winner based solely on a horse’s name is not a bad way to go if you either 1) tune into this sport once a year, or 2) aren’t betting any cold hard cash on the outcome. After all, if you’re going to wear a big hat and loudly cheer for a speedy animal, it might as well be named Hoof Hearted. Get it? Hoof Hearted? And that’s not made up.

This year’s contenders aren’t quite as “Beavis & Butthead” friendly as Hoof Hearted, but there are some winning monikers in the mix nonetheless. There’s Big Bazinga, which is really fun to shout; Wicked Strong, which anyone from Boston will appreciate; and Uncle Sigh, who actually sounds like he needs more hugs than cheers. But the best name this year might be Danza, who should be a favorite of any ’80s sitcom fan. The Wall Street Journal writes:

“The ‘Danza’ name came up in (the horse’s owners, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners) company-wide brainstorm session. Danza’s sire is the stallion Street Boss. So one employee submitted Danza as a reference to the actor who starred in the sitcom ‘Who’s the Boss?,’ which ran from 1984 to 1992. ‘We thought it would be clever,’ said Eclipse President Aron Wellman.”

Yes, there’s a horse named after Tony Danza in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

But unlike, say, naming a pet or a baby, it’s not enough that the owners simply settle on a name. The Jockey Club, America’s principle governing body dedicated to the registry of the Thoroughbred Stud book, must approve it. Rick Bailey, the Jockey Club’s registrar, told NPR in 2005 why this step is necessary:

“You don’t want two Thoroughbreds out there racing at the same time with very similar-sounding names. You know, as an example, there’s a very prominent racehorse from several years back named Easy Goer, spelled E-A-S-Y, as you might imagine, and you wouldn’t want to allow the name Eazy, spelled E-A-Z-Y. So I try to be careful to, you know, actually say them out loud before it gets approved, just to avoid that confusion.”

Luckily, there is no D-A-N-S-A.

Additionally, Bailey’s duty as registrar is to make sure racehorse owners don’t violate Jockey Club naming rules. Bailey tells NPR:

“We have a limitation of exactly 18 characters, and there are some special permissions that you have to get, for example, so that if you wanted to name a horse after a person, you would need to seek written permission from that person. One of the best ones that I remember in my 17 years here at the Jockey Club is, several years back, we had a filly named Barbara Bush when Mrs. Bush was still First Lady at the time. We received a letter of permission on White House letterhead. So that was pretty exciting.”

Perhaps because Eclipse only used Danza’s last name, however, it doesn’t seem like they had to go through the written permission process. But it doesn’t matter. Racehorse Danza earned actor Danza’s seal of approval on social media earlier this month after his namesake horse trumped his 40-1 odds and emerged the victor in the Arkansas Derby.

Rumor has it now, according to UT San Diego, that actor Danza is hoping to score tickets to Saturday’s Kentucky Derby to cheer on his equine namesake. And that just might happen, at least if Eclipse President Wellman has anything to say about it. He told UT San Diego:

“It would be cool to see him. We’d welcome him with open arms the First Saturday in May.”

If human Danza does show up to the Derby, here’s a hat he can wear:

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.
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