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How a horse gets its name

Racehorse names are often an homage to their bloodline.

One of the most interesting parts of going to a thoroughbred horse race is looking up all the names of the competitors. Racehorses are known to sport names that are at times evocative, irreverent or downright strange. While the names themselves might seem like they were picked out of a hat, there are actually a lot of traditions and superstitions – not to mention the rules set by the Jockey Club – that go into naming a horse,.

Honoring the bloodline
Many horses are named in such a way as to relate to their bloodline. For example, the 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags was sired by Dixie Union and traced his lineage back to the filly Glad Rags, who won the 1,000 Guineas Stakes in 1966. While honoring the horse’s bloodline may be a common tactic, horse owners avoid naming a new foal after any members of their own family. After all, if the horse were to lose, it would create quite an awkward situation.

Jockey Club Rules
Each thoroughbred racehorse foal must be registered through the Jockey Club according to a specific process and subject to a list of rules. Application to the Jockey Club registry starts at conception. Stallion owners are responsible for filling out a Report of Mares Bred for each stallion they stand. Once the foal is born, the owner has 30 days to file a Live Foal/No Foal report that includes the baby horse’s date of foaling, sex, and state or Canadian province of birth. Next there is a three- to four-month application window during which a DNA sample is analyzed and all of a foal’s distinguishing marks are noted. Since many foals are sold to new owners who want the opportunity to name the horse, they are usually registered without names. There is a deadline of February 1 of a horse’s second year to register a name with the Jockey Club sans penalty. After that, a naming fee applies.

Once a horse is registered, it may be named subject to specific regulations. First, there is a strict 18-character limit on horse names. In addition, the names may not be those of any other person without that individual’s express written consent. New names are also screened based on how they sound. This prevents confusion when they are announced over the loudspeaker at the races. Finally, you won’t be seeing any more Affirmeds hitting the track as the names of past winning horses are officially retired. With these rules regarding a horse’s name, it’s no wonder owners are forced to get creative.

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