Horses’ names are constructed in all sorts of ways, one of the most common of which is to try to combine elements from the names of the horse’s sire and dam. These elements may be words in the respective names (Florida Pearl, by Florida Sun out of Ice Pearl), or segments of the individual words (Red Rum, by Quorum out of Mared), or reflect aspects of their meaning, wittily construed (Wait For The Will, by Seeking The Gold out of You’d Be Surprised). Then there are names which advertise a company (Gearys For Strip, Amtrak Express, Mister Baileys); names which reflect personal association (Dorans Pride, out of Marians Pride, and owned by Tom Doran); and names which have a significance for the people who choose them that is far from obvious to anyone else.
The naming of racehorses in Great Britain is very carefully controlled by Weatherbys, who receive applications for around 12,000 new names every year, and several criteria are strictly applied in ruling what is and is not acceptable.
Names must not be longer than 18 characters and spaces. This explains those conflations, sometimes impenetrable at first sight, such as Thethingaboutitis, Blessingindisguise, Goldengirlmichelle, Dontdressfordinner or Sirarthurpendogget.
Names cannot be made up of figures or initials. Thus a name such as E.S.B., winner of the 1956 Grand National, would no longer be acceptable; however, initials can be spelled out phonetically to produce such names as Jay Em Ess or Ahraydoubleyou.
Names cannot start with a character other than a letter, nor can they, following a recent amendment, 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’.
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.
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, since 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 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’.
Names that are not allowed
Names are not allowed ‘whose meaning, pronunciation or spelling’ – to quote the official Jockey Club Rule – ‘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, and all sorts of ingenuity on the part of owners and trainers determined to pull a fast one over Weatherbys. Examples are “Hoof Hearted”; “Bare Naked” (can you imagine the commentators face as he calls out “and it’s Aidan Coleman riding Bare Naked”!); Wearthefoxhat (which, sadly was not allowed); Better Than Sex; and one for the Star Wars fans among us “Maythehorsebewithyou”.
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 Name Complications
A complicating factor in the naming of racehorses, and one becoming more acute as racing becomes more international, 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.
Did you know?
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.