12/20/2012 4:55PM

By Any Other Name


Call it the cringe factor, and thank goodness it still exists, for without it there would be no saving the species.

In the immediate wake of the victory of Violence, a son of Medaglia d'Oro, in the Dec. 15 CashCall Futurity, there were those who were loathe to utter the name of the colt aloud lest they be considered insensitive. After all, it had been barely 24 hours since the gun killings of 26 children, teachers and staff at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. During those 24 hours the word "violence" had been heard and read countless times across the broad spectrum of mass media and social networks, spoken and written in a context so appalling as to trigger helpless wailing and the gushing of tears. My daughter is 7 and goes to a neighborhood school like Sandy Hook. Enough said.

But now here was Thoroughbred horse racing -- of late a favorite whipping boy of animal rights extremists, opportunistic politicians and latter-day drug abstainers -- once again appearing to be tone deaf in all its glory, elevating a horse named Violence to the short list of Kentucky Derby contenders at the very moment the broader culture was reeling from the most violent possible domestic trauma.

It did not help that the odd headline writer poured salt in the wound. Wordplay is second nature to desk men and women, but whoever decided last Saturday evening to attach "Violence Reigns in $750,000 CashCall Futurity" to colleague Bill Christine's otherwise fine report on the race for the USA Today internet site should have known it was a good day to park his or her Thesaurus by the side of the road and play it straight.

Predictably, strong reactions leaked into racing conversations as well. Historian, blogger and reality show star Victor Zast, whose instincts I admire, suggested that no one would be the wiser or offended in the least were Violence to be renamed in both the interests of good taste and to prevent inevitable distractions from his possible achievements.  As it turns out, Violence was named in good faith by his owner, Steven Marshall of Rancho Santa Fe, who paid $600,000 for the colt as a yearling and was merely tapping into a pedigree led by his dam, Violent Beauty, a granddaughter of the inimitable Sky Beauty. Violent Beauty, a foal of 2003, raced before the novel of the same name was published but well after the concept of the beauty of violence and the commingling of the terms was considered mainstream in art and the behavorial sciences (see Newton, Helmut and Lagerfeld, Karl). Marshall also told Christine the colt looked like a "badass," so there you go.

As far as pushing the boundaries of good taste where Thoroughbred names are concerned, the emergence of Violence as a raw spot is more a result of awful timing than anything else. Over the past decade or so The Jockey Club has approved the horse names Fear, Pain, Gun Fire, Killer Instinct, Murderous and Shoot, as well as Target Sighted, Target Locked, Target Hit and Target Girl. War was a good horse owned by Tom Gentry. Assault won the Triple Crown. Yes, there was a horse named Hillside Strangler entered at Santa Anita while news of the notorious mid-1970s serial killings in L.A. was still fresh, but racing boss Jimmy Kilroe refused to let him run unless his name was changed. It was, and not because it was politically correct to protest, but because it was humanly decent to insist.

I've got no problem with Violence. In fact, I think Violence could be a good thing if every time he runs -- and I hope it will be often -- his appearance reminds people not only of what happened on Dec. 14 in Newtown, but what has been done or not done since that day to dramatically reduce the chances of it ever happening again.

Stephen More than 1 year ago
Gary Stevens story great!!
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
A beautiful "non-violent" act of kindness: miniature therapy horses being sent to Newtown schools. :)
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
A beautiful "non-violent" act of kindness: miniature therapy horses being sent to Newtown schools. :)
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
What about 'Violencebedammed' as an exceptable name change. He's at least bound to make it to the breeding shed one day.
James- Riley More than 1 year ago
We all remember Heart On, right? And Columbine is Sad was renamed after the shootings at that school
laura ban More than 1 year ago
Jay ..... Telling your daughter about Santa, the Easter Bunny and all things of that nature, is in my opinion not being a hypocrite, it's just letting her be a child a little longer, to believe in the sweetness and magic of life. We live in a violent world and it isn't going to change anytime soon. Let her go to bed dreaming of what Santa put under the tree for her - hopefully she gets a pony - and all the other childhood dreams. Soon enough she will learn the truth. ...... Like the colt, dislike the name, sorry. Merry Christmas.
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
Sorry,following the events of 12/14, I dislike the colt. I can admire him, but never root for him. As others will see fit to do.
AndrewD More than 1 year ago
Adding "No More" or "End the" in front of the name would go a long way to making people happy to watch this horse run and win.
Brian Taylor More than 1 year ago
There once was a horse named "Columbine is Sad" whose name was changed after the mass murder at Columbine High.Violence,however is a much more generic name(he is a half brother to Laertes)and I see no reason on earth to change it.(Perhaps their sister should be named Ophelia)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jay, you're a hypocrite. Why don't you let every voice be heard? I know, it's much easier to live in a vacuum where your belief-system can go unchallenged. I used to like your contributins, but now I see only conformity and shallow-ness, typical of mainstream-invested cogs. I know you're better than that, but when people are rarely exposed to the truth, the result is cubed-thinking. Be well.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
I posted the above comment because I think it is proper to acknowledge that the person who wrote it felt as if he or she was being censored by my unwillingness to accept a previous post. Like anyone whose name is attached to a blog, I reserve the right to accept comments I consider on point or at least in the ballpark. I would always welcome a vigorous challenge to any belief system when made in the context at hand. And yes, I am a hypocrite, because I continue to tell my daughter there is a Santa Claus.
Greg Scherr More than 1 year ago
Being that racing is so far off the public's radar there is nobody associated with Sandy Hook that will ever hear of this horse, and unless the horse was named in a way to relate with this or any other tragedy it is foolish to suggest changing the name. If a 5yr old gelding was running for the last 3 years with the name Dead As Sandy would you suggest it be changed? Of course not, but since this horse has had just a couple of starts it is OK to change, truthfully, it's a non-issue.
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
It's naieve of you to think that no one in western Connecticut (if that's what you meant) might have not or would not oneday have knowledge of this thoroughbred. New York racing facilities are next door, Saratoga especially. It's an upscale area; some may attend the nearby jumping meets. One of the angel innocents herself wanted a horse for her birthday and was proudly wearing her pink cowgirl boots, given a week early and just prior to her death. I'd also like to think that EVERY caring American is associated with this most recent, senseless tragedy. You are correct that this topic pales in comparison. But the word violence has no positive connotation. It sullies the American landscape.