President Lyndon B. Johnson’s image never quite recovered in many people’s view from the photograph of him picking up his two beagles by their ears. Personally, I was nearly as affronted by the names he had given the two dogs: Him and Her. A dog is entitled to a good name, and so, for me, is a horse. The Tennessee novelist John Trotwood Moore once noted, ‘Wherever man has left his footprint in the long ascent from barbarism to civilisation we will find the hoofprint of the horse beside it,’ and while that may be going it a bit in the age of the drone and the mobile phone, racehorses are noble beasts and the names some people give them are an insult to their breeding.
Flat racing these days abounds with Arabic names such as Mutakayyef, Bahaarah and Elhaame, which don’t mean much to the rest of us. But that is fair enough: most of them have Arab owners who are crucial to the continuance of our sport. What irritates me is the modern fashion for compound names. You could excuse Welliesinthewater, who was after all sired by Footstepsinthesand. And I guess enough of us remember the exchanges between the Voice of Boxing Harry Carpenter and heavyweight Frank Bruno for Unowhat-imeanharry to strike a chord. Perhaps it solved a dispute when Bryan Smart’s winning sprinter was called Nameitwhatyoulike. Imagine, though, being a racecourse commentator and having to cope at speed with a group including Canicallyouback, Formidableopponent, Howyadoingnotsobad, Douneedahand and Alwaystheoptimist. A recent Salisbury race was contested by, among others, Whatdoiwantthatfor and Thatsallimsaying. Even less appropriate for me are the current names Niqnaqaqpaadiwaaq, Tukitinyasok, Wernotfamusanymore and Eeueteotl. They may have seemed like a good idea over a drink or two, but I could not look a horse in the face and land it with a moniker like those, or even the punctuated The Geegeez Geegee.
There are rules about the naming of racehorses, enforced together by Weatherbys, the racing ‘civil service’, and the British Horseracing Authority, which maintains a register of 250,000 horse names. You can only register a name that is 18 letters or fewer (including spaces) and that does not appear on the protected list of 3,000 names of great horses that may never be used again. You cannot use the names of real people without their permission: the late Clement Freud was refused permission to name a filly Margaret Thatcher — and so he called it Weareagrandmother instead.
I tried entering a few possibles in the official checklist and I can tell you that David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeremy Corbyn are all ‘available’ should you be able to win their agreement. Also unused as yet, should you fancy his chances, is Jez We Can.
With the names of great horses protected, I tried entering Frankel II. That would not be permitted, but the website helpfully prompted me to consider Frankenbeans, Frankfurt, Frank Foot and even the near-the-knuckle novelist Frank Harris as alternatives. As well as Frankel, American Pharoah, the first US Triple Crown winner in 37 years, was also recently added to the list of names protected by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.
There is plenty of good fun to be had in naming horses. Richard Fahey won a race last season with Novinophobia, owned by P. Timmins and A Rhodes Haulage. On looking it up I discovered that it was a condition from which I suffer: novinophobia means a fear of not having enough wine. In the same ownership is, I believe, Triskaidekaphobia, which is a fear of the number 13.
Another of Clement Freud’s in-jokes accompanied Chancellor James Callaghan’s 1960s removal of tax concessions on business entertaining except for overseas buyers. Freud named a two-year-old Overseas Buyer intending to claim racecourse attendance as ‘investigating overseas buyers’ market’, losing bets as ‘supporting overseas buyer’ and trips to foreign racetracks as ‘pursuing overseas buyers’. Unfortunately, the horse proved useless.
It is, though, the BHA’s ban on smutty or suggestive names that seems to have provoked the most ingenuity and a few have got through the censor’s net. Wear The Fox Hat looked innocent enough, but try it in an Irish accent. Hoof Hearted ran for a while in South Africa and one international owner refused permission to register Big Tits in the UK did so in France instead. The French regulators, France Galop, must include plenty of ornithologists.
Attempted names that failed to pass the blue pencillers included Hugh G Dildeaux, P Nesenvy and Chit Hot. One that nearly made it showed the value of preparation. One owner persuaded Weatherbys that he was keen on the Ancient Greeks. His first horse was called Sophocles, the second Damocles and he then submitted Testicles as the third. Recently the regulations have been expanded to prevent the registering of horses’ names that could cause confusion in commentary, but not before somebody succeeded in registering their animal as Another Horse. Imagine the ribald comments in a few thousand betting shops as the commentator announced, ‘And now Another Horse has taken the lead.’