The Rules of Naming a Race Horse

Posted by Jaclyn Harris on Tue, Nov 4, 2014 @ 15:51 PM

10339543 759235174109721 201258900562261655 n resized 600While many believe that naming a race horse is as simple as coming up with a creative name, it’s much more than that. There are a variety of rules and regulations in place by the Jockey Club when it comes to creating names. Although the horse might have been given a stable name at birth (for example, Secretariat was called Big Red), when the horse is bred or is raced, it goes by its racing name.

So what are these rules and regulations? Who decides them? How are the horses classified? When does this happen?

Read on to learn how a race horse is named, and the rules and regulations in place for name submission.

Let’s Talk Age

Okay, so you’re probably thinking “what in the world does age have to do with naming a horse,” but the answer is quite a lot, actually. Regardless of when a horse is born, all horses are given the birthday of Jan. 1. This is to keep horses in easily defined age groups.

Within one year of their actual date of birth, horses much be registered with the Jockey Club, and this is no easy task. The horse must be DNA typed to prove their lineage, and both parents must be registered and DNA/blood typed. In addition, the foal cannot be born through artificial insemination or embryo transfer.

Once the horse is registered in its first year, it must be named by Feb. of its two-year-old year. This is where things get complicated.

Meeting the Guidelines

When owners go to submit a racing name, they can submit up to six names to the Jockey Club and the board will decide which name they can have. If the horse has not yet been raced or bred, the owner can pay a fee for a new name provided they dislike the one selected by the Jockey Club.

Horse names can be up to 18 characters in length including all spaces and punctuation, and also must follow the below guidelines:

  • Names are not allowed to end in “filly,” “colt,” “stud,” “mare,” “stallion,” or any other similar horse-related term
  • Names are not allowed to end with a numerical description such as “2nd” or “3rd,” regardless of if it is spelled out
  • Names cannot consist entirely of numbers unless the number is above thirty; then it can be used if it is spelled out
  • Initials such as C.O.D., F.O.B, I.O.U, etc. cannot be used
  • Names of actual persons cannot be used unless written permission to use their name is on file with the Jockey Club
  • Names having commercial significance cannot be used
  • No names from the restricted list (Hall of Fame, Eclipse Award winners, etc.) can be used
  • Names of race tracks or graded stakes races cannot be used
  • Names that are suggestive or could be considered vulgar or to have obscene meaning cannot be used
  • Names that could be considered offensive to religious, ethnic or political groups cannot be used
  • Names cannot be used if currently in use or if they sound too similar to name in use
  • Names cannot be reused until five years after the horse has left racing and breeding

Oh yes, lots of rules! However, some owners are able to get around certain rules by using creative spelling.

And as you can imagine, coming up with six possible names according to all of these regulations can be difficult, and if the owner cannot come up with a fitting selection or all of his choices are disapproved, the Jockey Club will select a name on its own accord.

Finally, once the horse is awarded its name, its registered name is tattooed under its upper lip for identification purposes. This provides a permanent link for finding the horse’s registration information.

Now That You Know How Race Horses are Named, See the Best Run at the Kentucky Derby!

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Kristen Doolan

Kristen Doolan was born and raised a Florida State Seminole. Making her way from Florida to North Carolina, Kristen achieved her B.S. in Business Administration, Marketing at The University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is an avid traveler, college football addict, beach bum and loves spending time with her family and friends. 


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Jazzy Morgan is originally from London, England and a die-hard Manchester United Fan. She grew up in Connecticut and made the move down south in 2011 where she attended Winthrop University and received her B.S. in Family & Consumer Sciences and a minor in Marketing. Jazzy enjoys traveling, working out, reading her monthly Vogue & Cosmo and keeping up with fashion trends.


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Evan Chronis was born in Omaha, Nebraska but has made his home in south Charlotte for almost two decades. A Tar Heel born and bred, Evan received his B.A in Media and Journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is an avid Boston sports fan thanks to his family’s New England roots, and a fanboy of Wes Anderson films.