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Playing The Name Game with The Steward

by Kelley Wachter posted 8 years 3 weeks ago

A Steward-bred is a Steward-bred by any other name. But look a little closer at the name bestowed upon any horse bred and named by The Steward and you might just get an inside peek at The Steward’s mind and her current enthusiasms. Averaging around 150 to 300 foals bred a year, The Steward maintains a relatively straight forward and simple approach to naming her horses as soon as they hit the proverbial ground.

While everyone looks forward to the Trial By Summer auctions of Steward-breds because they are an excellent opportunity for purchasing the next great racing superstar for their stable, a few of us find that the TBS auctions are a great way to see into The Steward’s way of thinking. Some pairings of mates lend themselves easily to draw from the sire and dam and adding a twist of current pop culture interests to the name, but some of her names do not follow a lineage theme and just come from “out of the blue.” Names such as Ember And Umber (from “The Magicians”) and Richard Parker (“Life of Pi”) relate to her reading interests, and, as we know, anything Harry Potter related is just a given. But there are other things, too, that The Steward brings to the table conversation with her names and I asked her about some of her recent choices and if they had any inflection on the horse itself.

“[My] current themes [in naming] include Phantom of the Opera (I was able to get several great names the other day while I was watching it) and of course lots of Harry Potter related things. I've also been on a kick regarding The Magicians (a book) lately, and I have a perpetual theme about things in the desert, which is where I grew up.” The Steward went on to add a little hint, “If you pay attention, you can tell what I'm into at the moment, and thus, which foals will be good. For example, let's say I'm currently reading Eragon. Although this example is bad because Emily Mitchell took all the names years ago, but if one day I breed 6 foals and 4 of them have Eragon based names, that means I got excited about the book and its characters and I went to give them to horses and made sure they went to good ones. I'm perfectly transparent. On the other hand, if a horse has a generic name such as ‘Sunshine Girl’ that means I wasn't feeling clever and I was bored with what I was doing.” And then she dropped the ultra-hint by confirming, “One thing to know about my naming schemes is that I can see how good a horse will be as soon as I breed it. I don't have to go through the "rename" process like you guys do, I can just change it on the name line and in the transaction without anyone ever knowing. That's why all my "good" names are good horses - I can move names around immediately if it didn't work out, and use them again. I don't have to wait until the horse works to realize the name I gave that I loved went to a horse who stinks."

While the Jockey Club prohibits naming horses after race tracks, graded stakes races, or even award titles, The Steward has been known to give such designations to quite few horses over the years. Since I myself have purchased two colts with such names (Santa Anita Derby and Belmont Day) I was interested in her choice to use such monikers and to see if they had any underlying meaning. Her response was interesting and provided a little bit of insight for me and hopefully for others, “The names that reference big days are usually just going along with the parents. Belmont Day is by Tremendous Machine, which is what Secretariat was called when he won the Belmont. Santa Anita Derby is by Big Cap, and Breeders' Cup is out of Steward's Cup, who hails from a Laura Ferguson-based family. She started it with the mare Yearly Report, whose first foal was Derby Report, which is what we called the reports we did on my website around that time each year. From there she had Feature Race, Simperior Edge, Triple Crown Trail and Steward's Cup - all SIM based names. Steward's Cup tried to continue it with Simmy Award, but then it turned to real racing names with Eclipse Award, Maryland Million, Japan Cup, etc.”
With all of her interests, she may find competition for her choice of names, so The Steward says, “I DEFINITELY reserve names all the time. I have several reserved now - basically, if I find anything good but don't feel like breeding foals, or I'm reading something that I love and feel like reserving a bunch of names. I had Richard Parker on reserve for months after reading Life of Pi before I gave it to that colt.”

Of course, there have to be some that “get away” and I asked her if she had a particular moniker that she liked that was one she hadn’t thought of. “Favorite name of a horse I didn't name? Mostly they are just horses I like in general - Jon Xett's Cabaret out of On Broadway I loved, and Open at the Close is a brilliant Harry Potter name I didn't think of,” was her answer and I would wholeheartedly agree on Open At The Close.

The subject has been touched on several times in the Forum and some have wondered if there is a “curse” on renaming a Steward-bred? I could almost see the wink and smile that likely accompanied The Steward’s response, “I wouldn't say that there is a "real" issue with it. I know of an example that I find amusing where Matthew McMahon bought like 3 horses in a row that I named Beagle. He changed the first two, but left the last one Beagle. All three were great, but the one who ended up Beagle was definitely the best….. if he hadn't renamed the first two, then the original Beagle still would have been the same, you know? Just a medium type horse. That said, I would say there's a curse on how I feel about you if you were to rename a horse where I put in the notes please don't rename this horse. Of course it's your horse once you buy it so you can do whatever you want, but it feels like a slap in the face when people rename those kinds of horses.” And that, my fellow SIMplayers is totally understandable, especially considering the respect that The Steward rightly deserves.

And then there was another question that Mr. Hern had raised in my mind about the naming karma in the SIM. I asked The Steward if there was any weight in that theory and her remark drew a real life reference of slightly superstitious statistical evidence. “I guess I do kind of believe in it (naming Karma), but that's because I believe in it in real life,” she said , “A squish name still hasn't won the Kentucky Derby in real life, and that's been almost 140 years. I believe only one squish name has won in the history of the Breeders' Cup, too - Silverbulletday - so I think that having a good strong name is just usually a better bet.” Hmmmm, looks like I better go rename some of my steeplechasers and sprinters!

With the SIM player population extending world wide, there are quite a few exotic names out there and I have always wondered if she worries about the pronunciation before doing a Podcast. Oddly enough, it was one of the simplest names in the SIM that tripped her up. She remarked, “The biggest flub I ever did on a name out loud was when I was doing a Podcast and I called Saga (the Derby winner, grand champion, Saga).... Sega. Like the gaming console. I don't even know why, I KNEW his name was Saga. I also have serious issues with the Buccaneer Derby - I cannot say that word to save my life and stumble over it every time, but that's a race name, not a horse.”

There you have it, just a little taste of what rolls around in The Steward’s mind while she manages her own SIM breeding program and turns out another crop of fittingly named foals for the upcoming years’ TBS auctions. So the next time that you browse through a sales list of one of the Steward-bred auctions be sure to read a little between the lines when looking over the names of potential future stars!

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