What’s in a name? For thoroughbreds, a lot By Bernard Kroviak, CDC Gaming Reports December 29, 2019 at 6:00 am I had always been fascinated by the names of thoroughbred racehorses. I thought a lot of them were cool, and many of their derivations very interesting. Even before I started in the business, I enjoyed the sound of the race callers excitedly announcing the names as the race progressed. But it was not until I owned one myself that I realized what the process for naming thoroughbreds actually entailed. The Jockey Club is responsible for the official registration of all racing thoroughbreds: date of foaling, lineage of the foal, markings and color, and all of the paperwork that goes along with such an animal. This includes the process of identification, such as the number on the foal papers, which has to this point been tattooed under the front lip of the horse. In recent years, this tattoo is being replaced by a microchip embedded in the horse, similar to the process that many people now use to keep their dogs safe. When foals are born, that event is first reported to the Jockey Club. They keep a record of all live foal births, as well as failed births. The next step is to notify the Jockey Club that your horse needs “papers”, a certification that it is registered and qualified to race as a thoroughbred. As you might remember, thoroughbreds can only be thoroughbreds through a “live cover” by a stallion approved by the JC. No artificial insemination is allowed in this breed. After receiving authorization, you are free to race the horse, sell the horse, or, if your animal is a female, breed the horse. Young horses that are sent to the sales, perhaps unsurprisingly, usually do not have names yet. People spending thousands – or millions – of dollars on a horse tend to like the idea of giving the horse a name of their choosing, and sellers don’t want to lessen the amount they can get for a young horse just because someone doesn’t like the name it was given. So when does a horse get its name? The Jockey Club has timetables that cover that. The same goes for horses bought at a sale. Obviously, in a sale situation, the Jockey Club must be notified of the change in ownership, and the horse’s papers must be updated. Usually the new owner of a young, unnamed horse submits a name at that time, along with that change of ownership application. The manner in which one names a horse has changed dramatically over the decades. Since the Jockey Club is responsible for approving and keeping track of all named horses, they have rules that go along with that process. Before computers, all the record keeping was done by hand, and, since only the JC had the list of the thousands of horses that already had names, you couldn’t be sure what names had already been taken or rejected. The rules dictated that no “inappropriate” names could be submitted, and the JC decided unilaterally what met that standard or didn’t. The name could not exceed so many letters or spaces, usually 16, and names could be rejected by a panel set up for that type of review. So after the thousands of new foals were born and the names submitted, the review panel did its job, and only then did they get back to you about whether your name was accepted or not. You can see why it took a great deal of time to find out what you could actually call your horse. In the early years, you had to submit several names to speed up the process. That way, if your first choice for a name was not allowed, they would assign one of your other submitted names, so you did not have to continually resubmit names and thus start the process all over again. Famous among the horses that in this category was Secretariat. Big Red’s owners submitted several names, and this is the one the JC attached to one of the greatest of all time. Odd, given how iconic he is, to consider that it wasn’t his owners’ first choice. That was decades ago, though. Today, before one submits a name, you can go to the Jockey Club website and look up the names of all those that have already been assigned, an especially nice feature if you are considering a name that may be on the generic side. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course; not everyone wants to own a horse named, to take just one example from Friday’s entries at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Thinkitsadonation. My fascination with horse names persisted. Many was the day I just went to the website and browsed. If you’re interested, go to TheJockeyClub.com, go to “resources,” click “registration” and go to the name book. Enter any horse name you choose, and it will give you a listing of similar names in use, so you can see if the name you have submitted is taken or open. As you can see, this ability saves both owners and the Jockey Club panel a lot of time. Jockey Club approved horse names are not forever, however. With so many names in play over the decades, it’s not possible to save all of them. Another function of the JC is to decide which names will be permanently saved and which will be dropped and become available to be used again. Last year the Jockey Club dropped almost 39,000 previously used names from the list and made some names forever off-limits. There will never be another horse named Man o’ War or Secretariat. These permanent names are noted in the online name book as well. Later in my career, I began breeding horses with my partners, and when it became my turn to name one of our foals, I immediately went to the JC website to check to see that my first choice was available. Happily, it was. Unfortunately, the name I submitted was rejected, but more about that saga later. Naming a horse can be a lot of fun, but attaching a name to a horse can have great consequences, depending on what kind of operation you run. You can give your horse a silly name, sure, but what if the horse turns out to be a great one? Do you really want him to have a goofy or unpronounceable moniker? Serious breeders and owners are always looking for value in racing, so most name their horses with that in mind. If, for example, you buy or breed a young horse that is sired by a stallion that charges $100,000 for just that cover – and there are a dozen or more in the world today that cost at least that much – you might want something in its name that reflects that expensive bloodline. If you run a big-time breeding operation and racing is secondary, you might want to include your name, or an element of it, at least, in the horse’s name. Others simply name horses to honor family or friends, or even events in history. Thus we have many horses with names that incorporate traditional human names, as well as names that salute the military: War Admiral, War Front, and Declaration of War, for example, along of course with the aforementioned Man o’ War. Clever names often intrigued me, and I also found it interesting when the horse’s name was some combination of or variation on its parents’ names. Combining the sire’s name with the mare’s to create a whole new name can be very special. From just the last two years of Breeders’ Cup runners we had sire My Boy Charlie, with mare Starlet’s Sister, resulting in Sistercharlie; sire Perfect Soul with mare Seeking the Title to get Seeking the Soul; sire Langfuhr with mare French Kiss to get Furiously Kissed; sire Tale of Ekati with mare Verve to get Verve’s Tale; and sire Sea of the Stars to mare Crystal Star, to get Crystal Ocean. And just taking the sire’s name, we get these, again all from this year’s Breeders’ Cup runners: English sired Channel Maker; Pure Prize sired Blue Prize; Crosstraffic sired Jaywalk; Stormy Atlantic sired Stormy Liberal; Declaration of War sired both War of Will and Empire of War; and leading sire Kitten’s Joy produced both Sadler’s Joy and Henley’s Joy. It’s interesting to note that the owner of Kitten’s Joy, Ken Ramsey, is probably responsible for more horses with similar names than any other breeder in history. When he retired the very successful Kitten’s Joy in 2005, he decided to use him as a stallion prospect. Offered to everyone at a relatively modest price, he got very few takers. Most of Kitten’s success was on turf, and American breeders tend to favor European stallions for turf racing. So Ramsey, who owned dozens of mares and was confident in his stallion, took a chance and bred all his best mares to Kitten’s Joy. Most of the resulting foals he named with derivations of the sire’s name, thus promoting his stallion with the names of his progeny. His first few foals were successful and soon other U.S. owners began sending mares to Kitten’s Joy, and in 2013, after producing winners of over $26 million, Kitten’s Joy was named Stallion of the Year. He still stands today, and costs $75,000 for a single cover. Understandable, considering his current lifetime record as a stallion is 2,345 wins – and somewhere north of $107 million in cashes – by his progeny. Not a bad gamble by Mr. Ramsey. One of my favorite horses of all time was Cigar. I thrilled to watch him win his 17 straight races for owner-breeder Allen Paulson – and, since I was a cigar smoker at the time, I couldn’t help but be interested in how he got his name. A little research led me to discover that Mr. Paulson was the founder of Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation and a lover of all things aviation. A former military pilot, he’d carried his passion to civilian status through his business and personal life. He bred dozens of horses, with two of the more famous being Cigar and Arazi. Interesting names, because most of Mr. Paulson’s horses were named after aviation checkpoints on maps that pilots use. So even though I was slightly disappointed to learn that Cigar was not named after my favorite relaxation tool, he remains one of my favorite horses. Horse who ran at the highest levels in the last few Breeders’ Cup Championships were the result of breeding to today’s most expensive stallions. They include Tapit, who stands for $225,000; War Front, who stands for $250,000; Into Mischief, at $175,000; Medaglia D’Oro at $200,000, and Curlin at $175,000. They have all sired horses with names that include their father’s name in some form or another. At those prices, you can see why. The first horse Anne, my primary partner, and I ever bred was to an Ohio stallion who stood for $1,000. That’s not a misprint. You can see were having fun and hoping for the best. Having already been in the business for more years than I had, Anne was very generous to let me name our first foal. I decided that I would name it after my parents, Margie and Bernie, both of whom were deceased by this time. Figuring out a way to honor both without using my name was a challenge. After much thought, I decided to call our foal Umpus and Marge. This way, if the foal was a colt, he would be Umpus, and if it was a filly, she would be Marge. I checked the Jockey Club website to make sure this name was not already taken, knowing the odds of that were probably pretty long. Sure enough, the name was available. Our beautiful little chestnut filly was born on April 3rd, 2003. She had a white pointed star between her eyes connected to a white stripe that ran down her nose, and a little bit of white on her back feet. Her name would always be Marge, but the longer moniker would be her official racing name. I proudly and confidently submitted my application for her foaling papers and her name to the Jockey Club. A few days later, the response came: the name was rejected. I could not believe it. It appeared that they wanted an explanation for the name Umpus. So I sent the information, which was that my Dad was a WWII bombadier on several B-17 airships. While serving in the European theatre, he was shot down twice, summarily decorated, and had garnered the nickname “Umpus”. It seems no one knew the meaning of this moniker, but some family members speculated that it might have stemmed from another brother who was in the service as well. Soon after I submitted my explanation, the papers were sent, and we had our horse’s name. The names of these majestic animals are forever part of every owners’ story, some serious, some clever, some very proper. But the Jockey Club, for all of its diligence, isn’t infallible, which is why my friends and I have always enjoyed a mare named Bodacious Ta Tas slipping by the Jockey Club and going on to be a famous stakes winner. I wonder what the explanation for that one was.