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The Rules surrounding the naming of racehorses

Have you ever wondered about the rules surrounding the naming of racehorses?

If you’ve been to the races, put on a bet, or just read the headlines on Grand National day you will have seen many names of racehorses. But have you ever wondered just how a racehorse gets its name?

What’s in a (racehorses) name?

Racehorses’ names are constructed in all sorts of ways. One of the most common is to try and combine elements from the names of the horse’s sire (dad) and dam (mum). These elements may be words in the respective names such as Florida Pearl, by Florida Sun out of Ice Pearl.

Others take segments of the individual words from each horse e.g. Red Rum, by Quorum out of Mared. 

Then there are names that reflect aspects of their meaning, wittily construed such as Wait for the Will, by Seeking the Gold out of You’d be Surprised.

Alternatively you get obviously commercial names which advertise a company. Or simple names which reflect personal association (Dorans Pride, out of Marians Pride, and owned by Tom Doran).

Lastly there are names which have a significance for the people who choose them but not so obvious to anyone else.

Rules surrounding the naming of racehorses

The naming of racehorses in Great Britain is very carefully controlled by Weatherbys who receive around 12,000 applications every year. There are several criteria which are strictly applied in ruling what is and what is not acceptable.

Names must not be longer than 18 characters (including spaces). This explains those conflations, sometimes impenetrable at first sight, such as Thethingaboutitis, Blessingindisguise and Dontdressfordinner.

Racehorse names cannot be made up of figures or initials. Thus a name such as E.S.B., a winner of the 1956 Grand National, would no longer be acceptable. However, initials can be spelled out phonetically to produce names such as Jay Em Ess or Ahraydoubleyou.

Another stipulation is that names cannot start with a character other than a letter. Also, following a fairly recent amendment, they cannot be ‘made up entirely of, or including initials, figures, hyphens, full-stops, commas, signs, exclamation marks, inverted commas, forward or backward slash, colon and semi-colon’.

Racehorse names that already exist

Names cannot be used which are already on the Register of Horse Names. This list contains some quarter of a million currently registered names. The names thus precluded include those:

  • of any racehorse upto five years after its death or at the age of 20, whichever is sooner;
  • of any broodmare for 10 years after her death or 10 years after the last recorded year in which she foaled or was covered, or at the age of 30, whichever is the sooner;
  • and of any stallion 15 years after his death or 15 years after the last recorded year in which he covered mares, or at 35 years of age, whichever is the sooner.

Furthermore, names cannot be used which are on the International and Domestic Lists of Protected Names. These compendia protect particularly celebrated horses against their names being sullied by lesser animals in future generations. The Domestic List of Protected Names consists of the winners of:

  • all five English Classics;
  • the Ascot Gold Cup;
  • the Grand National;
  • the Cheltenham Gold Cup;
  • the Champion Hurdle;
  • and the King George VI Chase.

Thus you could not call your new horse Arkle. Nor could you get round the rule by calling him The Arkle or Aarkle or Aachel or Ark’ll. Names deemed unacceptably close to protected names are politely declined. The list is subject to amendment. The Champion Hurdle, for instance, was added too late to prevent another Lanzarote racing in England. And the list cannot protect every well-known racehorse who has not won one of the specified races. But help is at hand. A new rule prohibits the registering of ‘names, in the opinion of the Stewards of the Jockey Club, of well-known horses’.

Racehorse names that are not allowed

Names are not allowed ‘whose meaning, pronunciation or spelling may be thought obscene or insulting or, in the opinion of the Stewards of the Jockey Club, may cause offence.’ This rule has caused all sorts of complications. But also it has lead to a lot of ingenuity on the part of owners and trainers determined to pull a fast one over Weatherbys. Examples are:

  • Hoof Hearted;
  • Bear Naked (can you imagine the commentators face as he calls out “and it’s Aiden Coleman riding Bear Naked“!);
  • Wearthefoxhat (which, sadly, was not allowed);
  • Better Than Sex
  • and one for the Star Wars fans among us Maythehorsebewithyou.

Similarly names are not allowed which would cause confusion in the administration of racing or betting. So don’t try to name your  horse Photo Finish, Stewards Enquiry, or Bar.

International racehorse naming complications

A complicating factor in the naming of racehorses is that two horses from different countries can be given the same name. In Great Britain, the names of horses born overseas carry a suffix to indicate their country of foaling. Thus the 2001 Oaks was won by Imagine (IRE). In the normal course of events these suffixes do not matter. But it can happen that two horses with the same name line up for the same race. In August 1979  Ginistrelli (USA) won a maiden race at Yarmouth, with Ginistrelli in fourth. And in June 1994 the same course saw Averti (IRE) and Averti (USA) both running unplaced in the same race.

Register a name for your future racehorse

You do not have to own a horse to register a name. For a fee payable to the BHA, Weatherbys will reserve a name for you against the moment when you have a horse to bear it. Why not visit the BHA website here today and check if the name you have in mind for your future racehorse is available?!

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