These Are the Goofy Rules for Naming a Racehorse

Racehorses are just as famous for their speed as for their names. Instead of seeing Black Stallion, Daisy, or Thunder in the Kentucky Derby, the roster is typically decidedly more ... creative. These horses aren't given outrageous names just for kicks. The process of naming a racehorse is a science that's strict, specific, and definitely a tad absurd.

So You Wanna Be a Racehorse?

Fruitsoup Olaf, Can I Call You Dad, I'll Just Have Soup, Olivia Loves Jesus, Say French Fry, Tanktops Flipflops, and Baby Ankles are just a few (incredible) examples of legit names for horses that have run at least once on a North American thoroughbred racetrack. Believe us, we're just scratching the surface. There's a lot that happens between a racehorse being born and its punny name popping up on the list of racing stallions at the track.

The racetrack naming process starts soon after the horse is born — but not necessarily on that day. On day one, the horse is likely given its stable name (you know, something a little more practical than calling out "I'll Just Have Soup" every day), but it'll soon have a different, more official label. For example, the iconic miracle horse Secretariat was known as Big Red around the stable.

According to Derby Experiences, a racehorse must be registered with the Jockey Club — the holy overseer of all North American thoroughbred racehorses — within a year of its birth, and microchipped. (All racehorses are given the birthdate of Jan. 1 regardless of when they were really born for age group purposes, but that's another thing.) Registration isn't a simple to-do, either. Your horse's DNA needs to be analyzed to prove its lineage, and its parents must be registered and DNA typed too. Oh, and if your horse is the product of artificial insemination or embryo transfer, sorry, you're DQed. After registration and before Feb. 1 of your horse's two-year-old year, your future all-star racehorse is going to need its racetrack name. Hope you're feeling creative because here's where it gets interesting.

A Horse by Any Other Name

Before you get your brain juice flowing for gold-medal worthy horse names, you need to make sure the potential titles follow all of the Jockey Club's rules. And there are quite a few. Here are the forbidden qualities that would make a horse name unsuitable for the track:

1. Names consisting of more than 18 letters; spaces and punctuation marks count as letters. Ineligible example: Imabeautifulhorseyandicanrunrealfast.

2. Names consisting entirely of initials. Ineligible example: F.B.I.

3. Names ending in "filly," "colt," "stud," "mare," "stallion," or any similar horse-related term. Ineligible example: Racester McHorsey.

4. Names consisting entirely of numbers. Numbers above thirty may be used if they are spelled out. Ineligible example: 438756234875683947568.

5. Names ending with a numerical designation such as "2nd" or "3rd," whether or not such a designation is spelled out. Ineligible example: King Horsey the 8th.

6. Names of living persons unless written permission to use their name is on file with The Jockey Club. Ineligible example: Jeff Goldblum.

7. Names of persons no longer living unless approval is granted by The Jockey Club based upon a satisfactory written explanation submitted to the Registrar. Ineligible example (assuming you don't have a super persuasive reason): Nikola Tesla.

8. Names of racetracks or graded stakes races. Ineligible example: Belmont Stakes Beauty.

9. Names clearly having commercial, artistic or creative significance. Ineligible example: Nike, Just Hoof It.

10. Names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning; names considered in poor taste; or names that may be offensive to religious, political, or ethnic groups. (We'll let you imagine your own ineligible example.)

11. Names that appear to be designed to harass, humiliate or disparage a specific individual, group of individuals, or entity. (Again, just imagine your own ineligible example.)

12. Names that are currently active either in racing or breeding. You can search names right here to see if there's a current racing or breeding horse with that name.

13. Names of winners in the past 25 years of grade one stakes races. Ineligible example: Star Guitar.

14. Permanent names, which include horses that are in racing's Hall of Fame, have been voted Horse of the Year, have won a lot of money, have won a big race, and more. Ineligible example: Secretariat.

15. Names similar in spelling or pronunciation to the classes of names listed in Rule 6-14. Ineligible: Giddy-Up J. Goldblum.

16. Names of horses previously recorded in The American Stud Book by the same sire or out of the same dam as the foal for which the attempt is made.

17. Names of horses appearing within the first five generations of the pedigree of the foal for which the attempt is made.

How to Name a Racehorse

Oh, we're not done. Once you brainstorm some names that don't break any of those rules, you'll submit six options to the Jockey Club. They'll then select your horse's racetrack name for you. If you don't like the one they pick (honestly, why would you even submit it?), you can pay a fee for a change.

Rick Bailey, the registrar of the Jockey Club, tells NPR about his favorite rule-abiding horse name story: "One of the best ones that I remember in my 17 years here at the Jockey Club is, several years back, we had a filly named Barbara Bush when Mrs. Bush was still First Lady at the time. We received a letter of permission on White House letterhead. So that was pretty exciting." Bailey gives the thumbs up or thumbs down to about 37,000 thoroughbred names a year.

According to Bailey, the creativity of the names submitted (and approved) don't come out of thin air, either. "I like the folks that use both sides of the pedigree in their names," he tells NPR. "For example, the name Inside Information was a racehorse by Private Account and out of the mare Pure Profit. Sticky GI(ph) is a foal by Lost Soldier and out of Super Glued." At the end of the day, name approval may be subjected to what the Jockey Club deems as best for the horse. Being sneaky to get a suggestive name, for example, may wind up hurting you, and your horse, down the line.

"We have seen instances in the past where the horse could get all the way to the racetrack, be ready to race, and could perhaps even be owned by a different owner," Bailey says, "and we've seen cases where the name caused the stewards at the racetrack to actually scratch the horse." Consider this article your permission to name your racehorse Curiosity Dot Com.

Want to learn more from the superhero of the sport? Check out Lawrence Scanlan's "The Horse God Built: The Untold Story of Secretariat, the World's Greatest Racehorse." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Naming a Racehorse

Written by Joanie Faletto May 1, 2018

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