SI Vault
Veda Eddy
February 10, 1986
Amid the Kentucky bluegrass splendor of Claiborne Farm, Mrs. A.B. Hancock Jr. sits with pad and pen and waits for inspiration. She has a hunch that one of this year's colts is destined for glory, and so he should have a suitable name. The colt's daddy is Seattle Slew, and Mrs. Hancock is hoping to find a short, snappy word—five letters if possible because five-letter names are a Claiborne tradition—that is synonymous with slew or, as it is more normally spelled, slough, which is a marsh. She thumbs through a dictionary. Swamp? No. Bog? Maybe. Aha! She has found it, another word for a water runoff. She dials the office and asks a secretary to check The Jockey Club's book of unavailable names to see if the one she wants has been taken. It hasn't. "Well, contact The Jockey Club right now and reserve S-W-A-L-E," she says.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 10, 1986

Playing 'name That Horse' Calls For Ingenuity And, At Times, Persistence

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

Racehorses are named for family members, for friends, and even for foes. In 1952 Pennsylvania horseman Max Hempt decided he'd say goodby to a lame duck President Truman, of whom he was not particularly fond, and at the same time name a colt by Adios. Hempt was able to send Adios Harry through the sale ring on Election Day.

Racehorses are named for places, for personalities and for memorable experiences. Brownell Combs II and his family were having Thanksgiving dinner year before last. The kids were fussing like crazy, and just when things were getting tense, Combs's daughter Dorothy piped up with "Are we having fun yet?" Over turkey and pumpkin pie, the Spendthrift Farm owner decided the phrase might make a good name.

You would think that Arewehaving-funyet, now one of the top West Coast fillies, and other such gobbledygook names would give race announcers fits. But Roger Huston, a veteran of more than 50,000 track calls, says tongue twisters don't bother him. (Then again, he hasn't called Shesellseashells coming down the stretch.) However, he does cringe when the names of two or more horses in the same race sound alike or make for surprising combinations. Huston once managed to whiz through a call of Sandy Sam, Sassy Pam and Pams Ram, but completely lost his cool the night he declared a one-two finish of quarter horses Bull Sit and Scoop It Up.

Racehorses are named by friends of owners at "foal-naming parties"—at which, it's reported, the names get funnier as the night wears on and the drinks take hold—and sometimes by total strangers. Earlier this year at The Meadows, a harness track near Pittsburgh, viewers of The Meadows Racing Network submitted suggestions for a foal sired by Sundance Skipper out of the mare Nanoo Nanoo. The winning name? Noo-Sance, a half-and-half classic.

Generally, though, owners don't like to hand over the name game reins to just anybody. At many of the larger farms, the naming of yearlings is a cherished tradition. "It's really a family effort around here," says Dell Hancock. "Something we take pride in."

Opinions differ as to what makes a good name. In fact, some claim that once a horse becomes famous, his name, no matter how awful, automatically becomes good. Still, when it comes time to name top-notch stock, a lot of decision-making goes on. "Sometimes if you think of a good name you don't want to waste it on a horse that you know isn't going to be a nice horse," Hancock admits.

"It is especially important for stallion prospects to have a name of stature," says John T.L. Jones Jr., owner of Walmac International in Lexington. "An ordinary racehorse can be funny or catchy, but an animal at the top should have a name that shows strength or grace. Something that can go down in history."

1 2