Race Horse Names: Legacy of Horse Racing


Race horse names are a hot topic as the Kentucky Derby that took place on May 7th has concluded. It has been an entertaining event, as always, and certainly a very colorful one as far as race horse names are concerned.

Yet, one of the best and most acclaimed horse racing events in the United States prompted some first time viewers to ask: how do race horses get their surprising names? Do you know? Here is our take on the topic.

Race Horse Names

Naming a race horse is a serious business. Generally, naming a foal is a serious business. The two supreme authorities on the matter are The Jockey Club and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA).

While The Jockey Club registers racing horse names, the AQHA takes on the responsibility of registering quarter horses. Foals’ owners who wish to register their horses with any of the two entities must comply with the tight regulations.

The Jockey Club has an impressive list of regulations that must be respected as far as race horse names are concerned. We won’t walk you through all them. Nevertheless, we cherry picked those regulations that will explain how famous race horse names came into being.

1. Naming a race horse after real people

Race horse names that take after real people are a rare occurrence. Nonetheless, when owners choose to name their foals after real persons, they must ask for that specific person’s permission. Only afterwards will the Jockey Club acknowledge the name.

A good example in this sense is the race horse named Nyquist. This beauty is a Kentucky 3-year-old colt. If you watched the Kentucky Derby, you know which colt we are thinking of. Well, Nyquist takes its name after NHL active player Gustav Nyquist. How did the colt come to have this resounding name? The race horse owner is a die-hard fan of the Detroit Red Wings where Gustav Nyquist performs.

Other race horses that made history have been named after real people, including jockeys, athletes, celebrities or politicians. Each time, the permission of each individual was required. However, racing horse names cannot bear cultural implications beyond this point.

Here is another famous example of a race horse being named after real people. The Clyde Van Dusen – Clyde Van Dusen team made history in 1929 when they won the Kentucky Derby. That’s right. Clyde Van Dusen was the name of the race horse that was the derby winner. At the same time, it was also the name of the foal’s trainer, the former jockey Clyde Van Dusen.

2. Picking an original race horse name

Horse racing is a century-old tradition. With thousands of horses that have competed for the biggest titles, it’s no wonder that there are very few ‘normal’ race horse names left. The foals’ owners must get a little creative to inject some character in the names of their race horses.

Here are a few night at the races horse names bound to better your day. Let’s start with thoroughbred stallion Odor in the Court. Quite creative, isn’t it? This racing horse entered 23 races, won two and maintained its position in the racing ranks. However, it may be the wacky name that prompted Odor in the Court to the top of funny race horse names lists.

Odor in the Court isn’t the only funny race horse name out there. This champ was sired by Judge Smells. Horsey McHorseface, Waikikamukaw, Riding Miss Daisy, AARRRRRRR, Imawildandcrazyguy make it to the list of funniest racing horse names ever.

How do race horses get these names? The answer has a lot to do with the draconic regulations of the Jockey Club. These are certainly no laughing matter and prompt jockeys and owners to come up with some really creative alternatives to what would pass as normal names.

Firstly, you should know that the name should be at most 18 character-long, including spaces and punctuation marks. However, the regulations put forth by the Jockey Club prohibit the use of names made up entirely of initials. Filly, stud, mare, colt or other such terms are off limits and may not be included in the horses’ names. If a foreign name is to be registered, the owner of the racing horse must also provide an adequate English translation.

Provided the authority finds it offensive, it will prohibit the use of this name. For instance, names that have strong cultural implications, including religious ones, will be rejected by the Jockey Club. With so many rules in place, it is no wonder owners must be very creative.

Yet, even when an original name is provided, this must be accompanied by a thorough explanation. Coined or made-up race horse names which may have no apparent meaning must be explained in a sort of essay if they are to be approved and used. It may be that the people at the Jockey Club get a good laugh with every race horse name in the same ranks with Waikikamukau. Nevertheless, it’s part of the culture of horse racing and well-established horse racing events.

Other rules set in stone by the Jockey Club refer to already established race horse names. For instance names of racing horses already included in the Hall of Fame are off limits. An owner can’t choose the names of horses that made it to the Horse of the Year list. Eclipse Award winners’ names are also protected. Basically, any race horse names that are already famous for winning a competition, the Kentucky Derby included, is protected and can’t be given to another racing horse. Even names similar in spelling or pronunciation to the ones mentioned above can’t be approved by the Jockey Club.

Against this background, it comes as no surprise that race horse names are building a different history on their own. There are racing horses which became famous for their outstanding performances. Then there are the horses which became famous for their names. One of the best parts about the annual Kentucky Derby is the entertainment brought about by the race horse names of the competitors.

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