Name Games

By Buddy Bishop

Maybe it's a sign of the times, a glimpse of what lies ahead. But I certainly hope that isn't the case. In the past few months, several Thoroughbred owners have submitted horse names that were quite obviously "vulgar, obscene, in poor taste, and offensive to religious, political, or ethnic groups." (If those words sound familiar, they should; they come straight from the Principal Rules and Requirements of The American Stud Book.)

Quite frankly, the names were repulsive.

Some of them didn't look too bad at first glance, but once they were pronounced, there was no mistaking the intent. In several cases, the phrase had been disguised -- and very cleverly, I might add -- by a change of spelling, by running words together, or even using words that have a vulgar meaning in another language.

We approve about 35,000 horse names a year and see many more than that; a few bad ones, unfortunately, do slip past us.

In the past two months, we've asked stewards in Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania to scratch three horses who had been entered in races, and they've readily complied on all three occasions.

In two of those cases, the names were so vulgar that I sincerely doubt a daily newspaper would have even printed them if a Turf writer or handicapper wrote them explaining that the horse was scratched by the stewards because of his or her name.

A handful of owners seem to take delight in "getting one over" on The Jockey Club, and at times have threatened legal action when we rejected a name we found to be offensive.

They don't seem to fully comprehend the fact others pay the consequences for their actions, especially when such a name is caught after entries have been taken.

The horse is penalized when he is scratched from a race he has been training for; the racetrack loses a betting interest; the complexion of the race may change so the fan is affected; the trainer and jockey--even the owner--are denied their opportunity to compete; and some of these names may alienate racing fans, which impacts the sport itself.

Changing a horse's name, especially after it has already raced, is a time-consuming ordeal and, quite candidly, an enormous waste of our time.

Both the stewards and management of The Jockey Club share my exasperation over the recent run of bad names.

How can we prevent inappropriate names in the future?

We could assign additional personnel to the naming-approval "committee," but that would slow the process we've worked so hard to expedite--through Jockey Club Interactive and the online names book--in recent years.

If need be, we could also add sanctions to the Principal Rules and Requirements of The American Stud Book to further discourage the practice of submitting inappropriate names.

But we hope it doesn't come to that.

What makes this business of bad names so disheartening, of course, is the rich history of genuinely clever names that have made Thoroughbred racing and breeding so much fun through the years...names that attracted not only positive publicity but maybe some new fans as well.

Here are some that come to mind: one of Holy Bull's first foals was named China Shop; Cat Thief is a son of Storm Cat and Train Robbery; Alphabet Soup is out of a mare named Illiterate; Watamichoppedliver was a daughter of Chopper Charlie and Libber and Onions.

Native Dancer, a son of Polynesian and Geisha, was just one of the hundreds of clever names the late Alfred Vanderbilt concocted for his horses.

Some of my personal favorites through the years have included: Odor in the Court (sired by Judge Smells), Don't Take Any (a son of Plugged Nickle and Wooden), and Yourtentormine (whose dam was Wigwam Duchess).

While some owners rely on pedigrees to devise names, others turn to news events, geography, or pop culture. In January, we saw dozens of creative horse names derived from the presidential election voting controversy in Florida. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, we've seen a proliferation of names with patriotic overtones.

There are too many good names out there that reflect well on the sport to be using obscene and vulgar ones that only demean Thoroughbred racing. The horses--and the industry--deserve better.

EDWARD A. "BUDDY" BISHOP is registrar of The Jockey Club.