What sporting events do you go watch in public spaces, even with people who don't care about the event that's going on? The World Series isn't one, unless your team is in the World Series; neither are the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup Final. (They start too late, on weekdays.) You don't go to a party to watch the Masters, or the U.S. Open, or the Olympics, unless you personally know one of the participants. In college football towns, movie theaters and backyard projector screens might show road games, but that's strictly a regional thing. The dirty secret about sports, one of the most collective civic institutions we have, is that they are mostly watched alone.
From my experience, here are the only sporting events that are constructed specifically to be watched in large groups:
- Super Bowl
- Soccer games involving national teams
- Boxing/MMA fights
- Kentucky Derby.
Of all of those -- with the possible exception of USMNT and USWNT World Cup matches -- the Kentucky Derby is my favorite public sports event. You spend two hours, usually grilling or catering but always drinking, usually something exotic and strange that you wouldn't ordinarily drink, just hanging out and talking to people. The nice thing about this conversation is that it isn't about horse racing at all, because only experts know anything about horse racing; it's the small talk Olympics, really. You just drink Mint Juleps -- or straight bourbon, whatever -- and mingle and wear fancy clothes and enjoy the fact that spring is here and school is almost over and the weekends are about to stretch long and lazily into the summer but it hasn't quite happened yet so just relax it's all gonna be OK.
Then, after a lovely May afternoon with friends and booze and meat, someone remembers that, oh yeah, there's a race, and then you gather around the television and scream at it for two minutes. And then it's over and you can go home and go to sleep.
It is sports as pure social interaction and pure two-minute sensation. It is everything we love about sports, condensed into one afternoon, with no context required beforehand or analysis afterward. If all sports were like the Kentucky Derby, we'd all live a lot healthier lives.
Anyway, it is time for, if you can believe this, my fourth annual Kentucky Derby Horse Rankings here at Sports on Earth. We've been doing these for four years! For the record, here are the best names of the last three Kentucky Derbys:
To my ears, here are the best horse names of all-time:
• Shut Up
• Odor In The Court
• Nobiz Like Shobiz
• Barely Legal
• Danzig Moon
There are 20 names. Here they are, ranked in ascending order of quality.
20. Untrapped. This name makes me feel like the horse is being imprisoned and tortured the rest of the time, and then unleashed -- for two minutes anyway -- during the race. I do not like this name.
19. Classic Empire. Definitely said this when watching the First Order destroy all those planets in The Force Awakens. "Classic Empire!" They're such murderers! What cads!
18. Fast and Accurate. Part of the increasing trend of naming horses after physical attributes their owners would like to display. What would a fast, inaccurate horse look like? Would it just jump off the track?
17. Always Dreaming. I dunno: This feels like the Inspirational Instagram Post of horse names.
16. Practical Joke. See, you're supposed to name your horse after a specific practical joke, not just practical jokes in general. Try "Hotfoot," or "Whoopee Cushion" or "Prank Phone Call" or "Jackalope" or "President Trump."
15. Battle of Midway. There was a time when a name like this would have felt like a way to honor the men who fought for our freedom in World War II. Now it just feels like someone got too excited watching the History Channel late one night.
14. State of Honor. Well, in a nationalistic sense, at least this one has the benefit of nostalgia!
13. Patch. It was nice of them to name a horse after my inability to grow facial hair.
12. Gormley. It's a lovely enough name, as long as you don't try to use it as an adverb.
11. Tapwrit. Horse, or social media network you don't know about yet but teenagers are using to send naked pictures of themselves back and forth to each other? Probably both.
10. Gunnevera. The story behind this horse is so amazing -- Gunnevera's trainer has been kidnapped twice, and that's just the start of it -- that I'm gonna forgive that the name sort of sounds like either a lower-level guerilla activist or a failed Ben & Jerry's regional flavor.
9. Irish War Cry. This is the only Irish War Cry I want to hear about.
8. J Boys Echo. Isn't this the name of Randy Marsh's boy band in South Park?
7. Sonneteer. The worst Avengers member ever!
"Hey, who's that guy standing next to Thor?"
"What's his deal?"
"He just reads sonnets to the aliens during a battle."
Sonneteer overhears, interrupts: "Three sang of love together: one with lips/Crimson, with cheeks and bosom in a glow."
6. Thunder Snow. This sounds like a terrible '80s child's toy, a Hasbro knockoff of a G.I. Joe Cobra bad guy or something. Like, a dispensable minion who has a tiger's face on a human's body and wears a poncho.
5. Lookin at Lee. The position of this name on the list depends in large part on which Lee we're looking at. Is it this Lee?
Or this one?
Or even this one?
We'll split the difference.
4. McCracken. Either an Irish mythical dragon or a beloved baseball sabermetrician. Either will work.
3. Girvin. He's not named after the Iceman -- it's spelled differently, don't you know -- but it's so evocative of him that I can't help but not only think of George Gervin, but root for the horse because of it. Iceman!
2. Hence. This is a word that every essayist and self-consciously-fancypants columnist uses far too often, so hence: I love me some Hence. I just wish there were also a horse named Forth.
1. Irap. My only problem with this horse is that if Irap wins, our president will immediately try to invade it.