What’s in a Name? Racehorse Naming Rules

In our foal registration blog, we discussed how we register our new foals with the Jockey Club. While the foal is now officially registered, it is not necessarily named. Naming is a critical step for racehorses as they must be named in order to race or breed. Owners have eighteen characters, the limit for racehorse names, to create something memorable for future generations.

20 Malibu Bonnie and her dam

In order to register a foal with the Jockey Club, owners must pay a Foal Registration Fee. This fee covers any valid naming attempts made by February 1st of the horse’s two-year-old year. After that date, owners must pay an additional $100 fee for their name claim. Names can be placed on reserve but must be used within one year of their reservation. The reservation may be extended for an additional $100. Prior to receiving their official names, horses are referred to by their dam’s name and their year of birth. Our first foal born in 2020 was a bay Candy Ride (ARG) filly out of graded stakes placed Malibu Bonnie. This filly will be known as 20 Malibu Bonnie until she is named.

When submitting a name claim, owners submit can submit multiple names for a single horse. The Jockey Club can then approve or reject these suggestions. It may take several name submissions before a horse is named. Famously, “Secretariat” was the sixth name submitted to the Jockey Club for the 1973 Triple Crown winner.

The Jockey Club may reject names for several reasons. Most commonly names are rejected if they too closely resemble a name currently in use. (e.g.: Caress is too close to Caressed). Names become available for use again once the horse is over ten years old and has not been bred or raced during the preceding five years. A list of recently released names is available on the Jockey Club website.

Horse names become permanent and unavailable for future use following certain achievements on the racetrack or in the breeding shed. For example, the name Secretariat is unavailable as Secretariat won the Triple Crown, was named Horse of the Year, and has been elected to the Racing Hall of Fame. Other achievements that would render a horse’s name permanent include cumulative earnings of $2 million or more, leading sire or broodmare sire titles by progeny earnings, and victories in any Triple Crown race or the Breeders’ Cup Classic. For a detailed list of naming rules, visit the Jockey Club’s website.

A horse’s name can be changed at any time prior to their first start for a fee of $125. A name change after the horse’s first start is possible but more complicated. If for some reason a horse’s name must be changed at this point, both the old and new name will be used until the horse has raced with its new name three times.

Cavorting won the G1 Ogden Phipps Stakes in 2016

Names can come from a wide variety of sources. Many owners choose names that relate to the horse’s pedigree. For example, G1 winner Cavorting gets her name from her dam Promenade Girl. Promenade is an archaic word for a formal dance (hence the modern term “prom”), and cavorting means to jump or dance around excitedly. Stonestreet proprietress Barbara Banke frequently names horses in her broodmare band and racing stable after friends and family members. These include Dreaming of Julia and Kauai Katie (named after her daughters), Tara’s Tango (named for a friend of the family), and Jess’s Dream (named after the late Jess Jackson). Between our racing stable and broodmare band, we have seven horses named after Barbara’s mother Pauline!