How to Name a Racehorse

Posted by Evan Chronis on Thu, Aug 23, 2018

Our Briantrust, Dream Maker, Chattel, Sir Truebadour and Yes and Yes.

These are just some of the names of the current slate of potential contenders for the 2020 Kentucky Derby®. If you think they sound odd or out of the ordinary... well, you're correct.

Thoroughbred horse racing is completely unique in its naming conventions and is unlike anything else you see in typical American sports. Horse names aren't tied to cities or given a ferocious sounding nickname, but rather follow a strict set of guidelines. 

It's a complicated process, but one deserving of diving into. 

Let's start with the last step first. Once a name is selected, it needs to be approved by the Jockey Club, a governing body in horse racing. But there is a deadline: the horse's name must be submitted by February 1 of its two-year-old year. Up to six names can be submitted at a single time with the preferred name starting at the top. 

The actual name chosen is decided by adherence to the following guidelines:

Kentucky Derby 2019

Race Horse Naming Guidelines

  • All names have a limit of 18 characters, which includes spaces and punctuation.
  • The name cannot consist entirely of initials.
  • The name cannot suggest vulgar or obscene meanings or gestures. They also cannot be offensive to religious and ethnic groups.
  • The terms "filly", "colt", "stud", "stallion" or "mare" may not be in the name.
  • Cannot be given a name with commercial value or sponsorship
  • The name cannot mimic that of previous Kentucky Derby winners or that of steeds voted Horse of the Year.
  • Cannot use the name of a track or stakes race
  • All names after a living person without written consent are prohibited
  • No use of the name of a deceased person without approval from the Jockey Club

So there you have it. That's why you see the erratic plethora of names that you do on the horse racing track. But there is one more step that I haven't mentioned:

Once a name is selected for a steed, its name is tattooed under its lip for identification purposes. A name doesn't have to be permanent, as well. A horse's official name can be altered as long as it's before its first race and before it begins breeding. 

2019 Kentucky Derby

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2020 Kentucky Derby Packages