Why do Racehorses Have Such Peculiar Names?

Why racehorses have such odd names is a question I get asked often by people when they find out how I make my living. I tend to give a long winded answer, mostly because I can, but it really can be summed up in one sentence: there are two reasons for it–first, it’s fun to come up with a peculiar name for a horse, and second, the name actually has to be unique. And yes, there are rules about it.

Honestly, it is great fun to name a horse. It is not like they are going to complain about it. You want something memorable and interesting, something that will sound good when announced in the winner’s circle and also look good in print. You want it catchy enough that people will notice it, and sometimes clever enough to inspire people to bet on it regardless of the odds of winning. This can make for some ridiculous—but unforgettable—names like Wear the Fox Hat, Onoitsmymothernlaw, Geespot, Deweycheatumnhowe, and Passing Wind come to mind. I know many casual bettors who put their money on horses simply because they liked the name or racing colours. Many people think about what the name is going to sound like when read by the announcer—which is how horses like In Front got named. Because who doesn’t want to hear someone yelling “In Front in front!” Some people take the horse’s parents’ names and combine them in clever ways, too, which can make things even more ridiculous depending on the names you started with.

Really, though, the problem is this: establishing identity. Take breeding, for example. The horse’s lineage must be clear and unambiguous, which means no duplicates. Whatever name you pick cannot ever have been used by a horse before, or currently be in use. There’s about 3,000 names already internationally retired and another 250,000 names on the current register (according to Weathersby, who knows these things because they put out the General Stud). With those constraints plus the fact that the name can only be 18 characters, including spaces, you need a little creativity to come up with something that works. You can’t even have something spelled differently yet sounds the same as another horse, because that could also get to be confusing during a race. Imagine if horses named Happydaze and Hoppy Days were competing in the same race. With the speed that some announcers speak, would you be able to tell which horse was in the lead? I know I wouldn’t, and I’ve listened to a lot of races.

There are limits to how silly the name can be, though—believe it or not. The name actually has to be approved by the British Horseracing Authority. So it can’t be anything offensive either. Just ask the Jockey Club, who approved the name “Little Hitler” and then—shock and surprise—had to scratch it from a race and ask that it be renamed.