Once a year, the entire SDS staff gravitates toward yours truly. I’m the guy from Kentucky. And Saturday is the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby. Surely, they all think, the guy from Kentucky must know something about this. Well, the joke’s on them. I am from Kentucky — shoot, I lived right down the street from Churchill Downs for three years — but I’ve been to the home of horse racing’s grand event more times for a Rolling Stones concert (one) than a Derby (zero).

One thing I do know about horse racing is that horses have cool names. Names that seem to carry all kinds of real-life significance. So much so that I’ve given each SEC football program a derby horse to symbolize some pivotal aspect of their character. Much like me predicting the race, it means next to nothing. But it’s all in good fun.

Alabama — Justify

The defending champion and the eternal favorite, Alabama, fits this name to a tee. Justify (above) is the favorite to win the Derby, and the name’s significance is obvious. When you’re the big dog, er, horse, when matching up with you becomes everybody’s Super Bowl, you’ve got to Justify that reputation and that hype.

Arkansas — Vino Rossa

While my foreign language skills aren’t sharp, that’s “red wine,” which is how Chad Morris wants to see Arkansas flow. The last couple years under Bret Bielema were more like cherry Kool-Aid cut with malt liquor. The new coach might deliver something more elegant and palatable.

Auburn — Mendelssohn

Named for the classical musician, this European horse has the second-best shot at the winner’s circle. Like Auburn, the pedigree causes some to look down on the horse, as compared to Justify. Like the composer who is the actual namesake of the horse, Gus Malzahn is a brilliant savant of his game. He draws up plays like the 19th century German composer wrote violin music. But can brilliance overcome being from somewhere other than where the champ usually comes from? We’ll see.

Florida — Blended Citizen

The horse will be a replacement if any of the others can’t run, but Florida is certainly counting on Dan Mullen to be active early and often. Given his prior experience in Gainesville and his years in Starkville, Mullen is indeed a blended citizen, but if he can lead the Gators back to the SEC title game, it’ll be the orange-and-blue side of his citizenship that will be remembered.

Georgia — Promises Fulfilled

After the Bulldogs cut loose of Mark Richt, they brought in Kirby Smart counting on a return to championship-chasing form. Well, he won the East, won the SEC title, and came a deep ball from delivering the national title. So if the Dawgs don’t entirely deserve the Promises Fulfilled moniker, they did plenty in 2017 to make a good start on living up to that name.

Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky — Noble Indy

The noble indy is smashing Kentucky back Benny Snell, who no longer will have backfield mate and RPO ace Stephen Johnson on his team. Kentucky will rely on Snell even more than in his first two 1,000 yard seasons, which is only appropriate because the hard-charging Snell can get to the end zone all on his own.

LSU — Instilled Regard

The horse is a 50/1 longshot, but the name fits an inconsistent LSU team that has to show an instilled regard for all competition. The Tigers in 2017 were good enough to take down Auburn, but also sloppy enough to drop a homecoming game to Troy. If Ed Orgeron can clean up those kind of lapses this year, the Tigers could make their own run for the roses.

Mississippi State — Firenze Fire

This horse is a long shot who hails from an unexpected place, in this case, New Jersey. Similarly, new State boss Joe Moorhead is kind of a long-shot in the SEC West, and comes from northern climes to the sport’s ultimate crucible. Connor O’Gara, put your money here.

Missouri — Bolt d’Oro

Again, I’m a Kentuckian, not a language scholar, but that’s “bolt of gold,” if you’re keeping score. Drew Lock’s talented right arm will be slinging bolts of gold all over the field for the Tigers this fall. That offense looks so good that even Derek Dooley can’t mess it up.

Ole Miss — Good Magic

As in the Rebels will be needing some good magic to keep their team on the right track despite the loss of scholarships and returning players. The horse is at 12/1 to win, and the Rebels might have managed similar odds had Shea Patterson and Van Jefferson, among others, not left for greener pastures.

Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina — Free Drop Billy

Will Muschamp led the Gamecocks to second place in the SEC East, and he did it with an offensive coordinator he seemed to despise, and without his best playmaker, Deebo Samuel. Give the man a free drop, can we? The horse is a 30/1 longshot, but if Deebo is back to full strength, Carolina might have better odds.

Tennessee — Audible

After their years chasing Championships of Life, the Vols called an audible. Actually, they called about 12 audibles during one of the most painful coaching searches ever. But putting in a new play is a good metaphor for what Jeremy Pruitt had done in Knoxville. At 8/1, the horse could surprise — and so could the Vols.

Texas A&M — Enticed

Both horse and team are relatively long shots. The name fits because of the 75 million rea$ons that Jimbo Fisher will receive to abandon Tallahassee for College Station. Hopefully, A&M enticed him into bringing some championship level football with him.

Vanderbilt — Lone Sailor

If there’s a Commodore out there holding out hope for an SEC title, that poor guy is a lone sailor. Keep the faith, buddy.