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How a Racehorse Gets Its Name

By Megan Cunningham

Animal names seem to follow some conventions. They may receive a normal person name like Jake, Steve, Mary, Casey, Danny, Harry, or Jack. The Beatles song, “Martha, My Dear” is actually a tribute to Paul McCartney’s sheepdog. While my dad once owned an Airedale named Lisa from his college days in Slippery Rock and well into the 1980s. They may have people names that most people don’t subject their kids to like Barney, Rex, Fido, Buddy, Oscar, Spike, Dobbin, or Sparky. Or they may have names describing their features or personality like Blackie, Lassie, Spot, Patches, Goldie, Dusty, Duchess, Dash, Fluffy, or Ruby. Or they may go with some cutesy name like the pampered Pekingese Trickie-Woo from All Creatures Great and Small (who ironically has a Canadian punk rock band named after him).

However, if you own a racehorse, giving it a name goes very differently. Unfortunately, conventional pet names won’t do. As Rachel Alexandria, Big Brown, and Giacomo are as far as normal animal names go on the racetrack. Instead, you’ll get a wide range of names. Some are respectable like War Admiral, Seabiscuit, American Pharoah, Country House, Man o’ War, Justify, and Secretariat. Some are colorful like Smarty Jones, Nyquist, Damascus, Barbaro, Kelso, Eclipse, Mage, Lava Man, Spectacular Bird, Clyde Van Dusen, and Citation. Then there are the outrageous names like Odor in the Court, Panty Raid, Big Tits, Bodacious Tatas, Slumpduster, Hoof Hearted, Passing Wind, and Hannibal Lector. But why? Well, it all comes down that a race horse’s name must function like an athlete’s jersey number. But since racehorses don’t play on sports teams, there must be little repetition in the naming convention. While there are governing bodies for thoroughbred racing to set parameters on which names racehorse owners can use. In the United States and Canada, that’s the Jockey Club. And there are rules owners must follow in naming a race horse that I list below:

Must be no more than 18 characters. Spaces and punctuations count. It’s why you have names like Maythehorsebewithu, Nosupeforyou, Mywifenosevrything, Thewifedoesntknow, Notacatbutallama, and That’s Whatshesaid.

Must not contain any profanity.

Can’t only contain numbers. If they include numbers or numerical designations, they must be spelled out.

Can’t only consist of initials.

Can’t disparage, inflame, or offend.

Can’t be suggestive (although this is very subjective).

Can’t end in “filly,” “colt,” “stud,” “mare,” “stallion,” or any similar horse-related term.

Although somehow Red Hot Filly Peppers was approved because it’s a pun.

Can’t use the names of living people without permission.

Can’t use the names of dead people without Jockey Club approval.

Can’t use names of racetracks or stakes races.

Can’t have any commercial, artistic, or creative significance. Thus, you can’t name your racehorse after your car, your favorite alcoholic beverage, or your favorite Harry Potter character. Although why there’s one named Hannibal Lector is beyond me.

And most importantly, can’t be already registered, a prohibition that can last for years after a horse’s retirement (20 on average). And if the horse wins a major race like the Kentucky Derby, achieves a major accomplishment, and/or retires to the stud farm, then forever. And you can’t get past this if you alter the spelling either. For instance, if there’s already an Easy Goer on the registry, Eazy Goer won’t fly. And by the way, there are currently 450,000 active names on the registry.

Nevertheless, this leaves racehorse owners to come up with creative ideas to fit the Jockey Club guidelines. The naming structure usually adheres to a few subcategories. Sometimes this might come down to pedigree. For instance, Odor in the Court is named thus because he’s sired by Judge Smells. Seabiscuit’s father was Hard Tack. There’s also a horse named Golden Soul whose parents were Perfect Soul and Hollywood Gold. One named Sticky G.I. had parents named Lost Soldier and Super Glued. Danzing Candy’s parents were Twirling Candy and House of Danzing. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s dad was Pioneer of the Nile. His half-brother Pioneer of Medina’s mom was Lights of Medina. While the gelding Frisky No More is named thus because his mom’s Frisky Business. And when a stallion named Private Account mates with a mare named Pure Profit, you get Inside Information.

Sometimes owners may opt for something more memorable. Some horse names may be pop culture references like Maythehorsebewithu, Nosupeforyou, Fiftyshadesofhay, Riding Miss Daisy, Horsey McHorseface, Red Hot Filly Peppers, Zenyatta, Lemon Drop Kid, and That’s Whatshesaid. Some may opt for a name after a person or in tribute. Nyquist was named after a hockey player. Clyde Van Dusen was named after his trainer. And so was Frankel as a tribute to the namesake who died. There’s even one named after First Lady Barbara Bush and another after tennis star Chris Evert. The 2021 Triple Crown line up consisted of Spielberg, Fauci, Gretzky the Great, Joe Frazier, the Great One (also in reference to Wayne Gretzky), and Superman Shaq. However, this convention may depend on cultural context. For instance, while folks in Britain may like the idea of a horse named after them (aside from Margaret Thatcher who famously declined), French people would find it insulting. So maybe naming your horse after Gerad Depardieu won’t fly because of that.

Some may opt for humorous names like I’ll Have Another, Hoof Hearted, Bodacious Tatas, My Tent Or Yours, All Pink, Wear the Fox Hat, and Panty Raid. Especially if they want to mess with the commentators. For instance, a screenwriter from Airplane bought a horse that he named All Pink and told his jockey hug the inside. So the commentator would say, “It’s All Pink on the inside.” The horse Onoitsmymotherinlaw won the Saratoga race course with the hysterical race call comment, “Onoitsmymotherinlaw…won’t go away!” Horses named Thewifenosevrything and Thewifedoesntknow once famously raced together in tandem during a race in New Jersey. While the filly Panty Raid wound up earning more than $1 million in her racing career. Some can be puns like Hoof Hearted which sounds more like “Who farted?” when said several times fast. If you say Wear the Fox Hat quickly and in an Irish accent, make sure you’re not at work or school. While unfortunately, the gelding Bofa Deez Nuts didn’t get to keep his.

And some may find name a horse after a favorite location, pastime, nickname, word or phrase. The most recent Kentucky Derby winner, Mage gets his name from a character classification for a magic user in a fantasy game like Dungeons and Dragons. Racehorse owner John Ed Anthony has named his horses after places in Arkansas such as Cox’s Ridge, Pine Bluff, and Temprence Hill. There’s also another horse named Fenway after Fenway Park by an owner who’s probably a Red Sox fan. The Australian Waikikamukau is pronounced “why to kick a moo cow,” but is Maori for “a town in the middle of nowhere.” While there was once a Kentucky Derby horse named My Dad George whose origin is obvious. Still, if you want to give a horse a respectable name, this may be the way to go. Although you may not want to name them after Pennsylvania towns like Drums, Mars, Moon, Pillow, Forty Fort, Intercourse, Blue Ball, Middlesex, and Eighty-Four.

Still, when you name your racehorse, it’s best you make a few selections to submit to the local racehorse authority. Because governing bodies like the Jockey Club can reject as many as a third of them. Most often because there’s already a horse with the requested name. But some can be shot down for breaking other rules as well. Although you’d get the occasional name that slips by like Geespot whose parents were Pursuit of Love and My Discovery. While Red Hot Filly Peppers also squeaks by despite having “filly” in her name. Still, although owners may be free to name their racehorse however they choose, the process is so much more complicated than naming your pet.


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