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What’s in a name?

One of racehorse ownership’s rarely mentioned pleasures is the naming of your horse.

There is a perception among some owners that only horses with “nice names” manage to win major races, or manage to win at all. This view, of course, is fundamentally subjective in that one individual’s meaning of a “nice” name is another’s nightmare.

The “Nice Name” Theory does seem to carry some merit if one thinks of just a few racing legends of our time. Imagine Frankel being called “Spot” or American Pharoah running as “Hot Diddly Dawg ” or Sea Cottage appearing as “Huisie by die See”. Doesn’t quite work as well, does it?

Normally about 60% of yearlings are already named by their breeders when they arrive at various auctions and, in general, most are well named or at least named with the basics in mind, for example a yearling from the stallion ‘’Pink” from the mare “Cadillac” will be named “Pink Cadillac”.

Owners have the right to change an existing name when a new purchase is registered to race with the National Horseracing Authority.  This comes with a standard fee and happens on occasion. Basic naming for unnamed youngsters is as easy as one-two-three, although the NHRA’s data search rejects certain “protected” names, names in use within a specified exclusion period or names that may be deemed offensive in some way or the other.

The registration process itself is not always foolproof – brand names (not allowed) and especially spelling errors can creep in due to the new owner (or a new Jockey Club clerk on duty) having inadequate command of English, often concerning  the use of the apostrophe!

Racing’s purists demand that certain names should be regarded forever exclusive to single performers due to the exceptional career records of the animals that carried such names – there simply shouldn’t be newly-born yearlings named, for example, “Hawaii” or “Empress Club” or “Horse Chestnut”, because they may turn out to be mere shadows of the originals which will detract from their historical value.

The late Bridget Oppenheimer was big on naming. She named every horse that was born at Mauritzfontein Stud Farm only after proper research and sometimes lengthy discussions with family members and friends, and in consideration of outside opinion. Her daughter Mary Slack of Wilgerbosdrift and granddaughter Jessica Slack have continued this tradition of careful naming – it becomes an art if seriously pursued and appears to be applied with similar enthusiasm elsewhere these days.

At next week’s CTS March Yearling Sale, one well-named example is Lot 182, The Colour Purple raised by Highlands Farm.  He’s a colt by Antonius Pius (Roman Emperor with purple robes) from the mare Lavender Lake.

Another well-named yearling from Highlands is (Great Britain x Liberal Lady), named after the young, supermodel-daughter of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, the British legend.

Sorrento Stud’s (Lot 176) is by What A Winter from “Karma” (the force created by a person’s actions), and herself a daughter of “Kundalini” (latent female energy).

Also catching the eye among well-named lots is (Lot 99), from Sandown Stud and produced from the mating of Philanthropist and Call To Court, from the family of Lady Advocate, Judicial and I Am The Law.

News is, at this Durbanville Sale there are more than 150 unnamed yearlings to come under the hammer. Being unnamed doesn’t guarantee natural talent in a thoroughbred, but it does give the buyer the opportunity to pick a “nice” name for his young horse! This, in turn, will give his purchase an edge, right?

To view the CTS March Catalogue online, go to

Photo: Lot 182, The Colour Purple.