We’ve all seen some famous, some weird, some wonderful and some downright ridiculously named racehorses through the years.
Some horses are named after family members, human or equine. Some have geographically significant monikers, many are religious or simply topical, but what are the rules?
Rules for Naming a Racehorse
Though they change from territory to territory, the rules for naming a racehorse in Britain are pretty steadfast.
For a horse to be eligible to race, either in Point-to-Points or under rules, it must be registered with the BHA with a unique name. That name must remain with them for life, though occasionally when they move territories such as to Australia, a clash of names occurs and the names have to be altered slightly.
Naturally, unique naming is needed in order for punters and everyone else in the sport to be able to distinguish one horse from another. It also helps a much more important aspect of the sport; allowing pedigrees and bloodlines to be traced more easily.
Horses in fact have to be registered with a unique name in order to be used for breeding.
Using the BHA’s online checker, owners or trainers may look for their name of choice. If it’s available and eligible, it can be accepted. Many applications for racehorse naming or completed within a day.
Here are the basic rules:
- The horse’s name may have a maximum of 18 characters. This includes spaces or punctuation.
- Initials are not allowed.
- Names cannot end with ‘colt’, ‘filly’, ‘stud’, ‘mare’ or ‘stallion’. Other racing terms are not allowed.
- No numbers. You can spell it out, such as ‘Horse Twenty-Five’.
- Names may not include the name of a real person currently alive, or having died within the last 50 years, unless written permission is given by them or their family. Historical names are often used, such as ‘Stravinsky’.
- No racecourses or graded races can be used on their own. ‘Goodwood Flyer’ would be allowed, though.
- No suggestive, obscene or vulgar words or meanings can be used (though some slip through!).
- Names cannot be considered offensive to a particular ethnic, religious or political group.
- No names which feature on the ‘restricted list’. The list contains the names of horses which have won major races, along with famous horses whose memory should be honoured.
- Names of horses currently in use or similar names cannot be reused until five years after the horse has retired either from racing or breeding.
While some major names are protected, many choose to use them within a longer overall name to honour the family lineage. For example, you couldn’t name a horse Frankel, but those naming some of his progeny have chosen King Frankel, My Frankel, Frankly Darling etc.
As mentioned above, there may well be a whole host of horses running with names which tie in with their sire, dam or other members of their family.
Lots of horses carry the name of Frankel, Galileo or Dubawi for example but new horses being registered must not be named after other famous racehorses outright.
Duplicate names across territories are often allowed, however. Many people may remember Coolmore’s talented colt Kingsbarns who was foaled in 2010. He was named despite another Kingsbarns being registered in the States in 2002, while they also allowed a Kingsbarns who hit the Kentucky Derby trail in 2023.
Shadwell also took full advantage of that rule when giving two fillies of the same age the same name. The Malathaat foaled in Ireland in 2018 raced in England for Richard Hannon, while the Malathaat foaled in the USA raced there for Todd Pletcher winning the Kentucky Oaks and at the Breeders’ Cup.
Despite the best efforts of the BHA and their overseas counterparts, some names we find amusing (or offensive) do sometimes go through the slips. Here are some of the best:
Ha Ha Ha
Still in training until the end of 2022, Ha Ha Ha was trained in Ireland by Jessica Harrington. A filly by Dark Angel, her name mirrors that of the Ha Ha Ha foaled in Britain in 1998. There is also an Australian-bred Ha Ha. Surely, this name is used only to mess with our often dourly voiced commentators.
Even the kids will get this one. This one was bred and raced in South Africa, retiring early in 2004. If only question marks were allowed with horse names.
We’ll say no more.
Well, we won’t go into what the name implies, but this horse was no joke. In fairness, the mare won a Listed race and four other contests for Julie Cecil in the 90’s. She was also a broodmare, producing among others Compton Banker who ran 62 times and was rated 96 at his peak.
Bred in New Zealand and by the great Zabeel, Maythehorsebewithu is a harmless one for the Star Wars nuts. Trained in Australia, this horse actually went on to run fifth in the 2001 Melbourne Cup.
Bred in 2004, this is New Zealand’s answer perhaps to Hoof Hearted. Though bred by the Kiwis, Passing Wind actually raced in Britain for Richard Guest, achieving two victories over the jumps.
Two In The Pink
Foaled in 2010, Two In The Pink was trained first by Hugo Palmer and then by Ralph Smith. We’re not Urban Dictionary, so we won’t explain what this means here, but feel free to give it a wee internet search if you don’t share a computer with the family.
Two In The Pink managed three career wins in 46 races under rules.
Wear The Fox Hat
One of the absolute best and a nuisance for horse racing commentators. Foaled in 1993, this horse carried the most hilarious name, one that clearly seemed normal to the BHA when it was written down rather than spoken out.
In 2015, the BHA published some of the names they rejected during that year alone. They included Ben Dover, E Rex Sean, Penny Tration, Ho Lee Fook, Ophelia Balls and Sofa King Fast. What a shame!