Racehorse Naming Rules: An Overview

Some of the names which racehorses go by are mesmerizing and quite distinct. Not many people understand the process that results to these seemingly random, strange, playful and sometimes crazy names that can only be heard in the horse racing sport.

The process of coming up with the names is usually one of personal reflection and thoughtful decision-making while ensuring the strict regulations handed down by the highest authorities in horse racing are followed.

Racehorse Naming Rules /Criteria

When coming up with racehorse names, the following requirements must be met. The rules may slightly vary depending on the country.

  1. The names cannot exceed 18 characters including spaces and punctuation marks.
  2. Names cannot be made up of entirely of initials such as K.F.C., B.O.G., etc.
  3. Names ending in “filly,” “colt,” “stud,” “mare,” “stallion,” or any similar horse-related term are not eligible for use
  4. Names consisting entirely of numbers are not allowed. Numbers above thirty may be used if they are spelled out;
  5. You cannot use names ending with a numerical designation such as “2nd” or “3rd,” whether or not such a designation is spelled out;
  6. All names after a living person without written consent are prohibited
  7. Names of persons no longer living are not eligible for use unless approval is granted by The Jockey Club based upon a satisfactory written explanation submitted to the Registrar;
  8. You cannot use names of racetracks or graded stakes races;
  9. All names clearly having commercial, artistic or creative significance are not allowed.
  10. You cannot use names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning; names considered in poor taste; or names that may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups;
  11. Names that appear to be designed to harass, humiliate or disparage a specific individual, group of individuals or entity are prohibited
  12. You cannot use names that are currently active either in racing or breeding
  13. You are not allowed to use names of winners in the past 25 years of grade one stakes races;
  14. Names similar in spelling or pronunciation are not allowed.
  15. You cannot use names of horses previously recorded in The American Stud Book by the same sire or out of the same dam as the foal for which the attempt is made.
  16. You cannot use names of horses appearing within the first five generations of the pedigree of the foal for which the attempt is made. For a complete guide check the jockey club rule book
Horse racing event
Racing in action

Permanent Names

Can a race horse have a permanent name? Yes, but not any horse can have a permanent name. Horses that can be given permanent names must meet the following requirements

  1. Horses in racing’s Hall of Fame;
  2. Horses that have been voted Horse of the Year;
  3. Horses that have won an Eclipse Award;
  4. Horses that have won a Sovereign Award (Canadian Champions);
  5. Annual leading sire and broodmare sire by progeny earnings;
  6. Cumulative money winners of $2 million or more;
  7. Horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, The Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Breeders’ Cup Turf;
  8. Horses included in the International List of Protected Names.

Can you Change a Race Horse Name?

It is possible to change the name of a foal anytime but must be done prior to starting in its first race. Normally, it is not allowed that you change the name after a horse has started in its first race or has been used for breeding purposes.

However, in the event a name must be changed after a horse has started in its first race, both the old and new names should be used until the horse has raced three times following the name change.

Can the names be Rejected?

It is worth noting that a substantial percentage, about 30%, of all submitted horse names are rejected outright for breaking one or more of the above rules.

To be on safe side, it is recommended that you submit multiple names to reduce the possibility of total rejection.

How to Name-Ideas

According to an official from the horse racing authorities, one of the most common naming methods is to name a horse after its parentage.

Ideas for thoroughbred horse racing

Some racehorses get their names from one side of their lineage or the other, while some owners will find a clever way to use both the mother, or “dam,” and the father, or “sire.”

Racehorse owners don’t have to rely entirely on lineage, they can still name a horse after a favorite location, pastime, nickname, word, phrase — or almost anything else as long as the name meets requirement. Some names may come from pop culture and current events.

Race Horses Breed Names

More often than not, only specific horse breeds are allowed to race. This means that the horse must have parents who are studbook-approved individuals of whatever breed is racing. Names of breeds that are mostly involved in horse racing include;


There are three founding sires (fathers) that all Thoroughbreds can trace back to in the male line: the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerley Turk, named after their respective owners Thomas Darley, Lord Godolphin, and Captain Robert Byerly.

 They were taken to England, where they were mated with mares from English and imported bloodlines.

 The resultant foals were the first generation of Thoroughbreds, and all modern Thoroughbreds trace back to them.


  • They range in height, which is measured in hands (equivalent to four inches). Some are as small as 15 hands while others are over 17.
  • They can travel medium distances at fast paces, requiring a balance between speed and endurance.
  • Thoroughbreds may be bay, black, dark bay/brown, chestnut, gray, roan, white or palomino.
  • Artificial insemination, cloning and embryo transfer are not allowed in the Thoroughbred breed


The standardbreds are largely bred for harness racing but can be used for many other purposes. They are descended from thoroughbreds, morgans, and extinct breeds.


  • Docile and easy to handle.
  • Quite Versatile in their activities
  • They can be jumpers, dressage, and pleasure riding horses
  • Rarely spook

Arabian horse

The Arabian horse was developed by the Bedouin people of the Middle East specifically for stamina over long distances, so they could outrun their enemies.

The Arabian is primarily used today in endurance racing but is also raced over traditional race tracks in many countries.

Quarter Horse

The American Quarter Horse, or Quarter Horse, is an American breed of horse that excels at sprinting short distances. Its name is derived from its ability to outrun other horse breeds in races of a quarter mile or less

In addition to the three main racing breeds above and their crosses, horse racing may be conducted using various other breeds:

  • Appaloosa,
  • American Paint Horse
  • mules,
  • Selle Français,
  • AQPS (“Autre Que Pur-Sang”)
  • Korean Jeju

Race type and Breeds

Some of the breeds above can participate in different races while others can participate in only one race. The race types include; Flat, jump, harness and endurance racing

  • Flat racing horse breeds include the Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Arabian, Paint, and Appaloosa
  • Jump racing breeds include the Thoroughbred and AQPS.
  • In harness racing, Standardbreds are used in Australia, New Zealand and North America, when in Europe, Russian and French Trotter are used with Standardbred.
  • Light cold blood horses, such as Finnhorses and Scandinavian coldblood trotter are also used in harness racing within their respective geographical areas.

Names of World’s Top Horse Races

  • Kentucky Derby-Louisville, Kentucky
  • Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe-Paris, France
  • Belmont Stakes-Elmont, New York
  • The Royal Ascot-Ascot, England
  • The Preakness Stakes-Baltimore, Maryland
  • Melbourne Cup-Melbourne, Australia
  • Nakayama Grand Jump-Funabashi, Japan
  • The Grand National-Aintree, England
  • Dubai World Cup-Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Breeders’ Cup World Championships

Top Race Horse Organizations

  • National thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA)
  • The Jockey Club
  • New York Racing Association (NYRA)
  • International Federation of Horseracing
  • British Horseracing Authority
  • Equibase Co LLC
  • Arlington International Racecourse
  • France Galop
  • Asian Racing Federation
  • California Horse Racing Board

More Horse Names & Naming Ideas

Horse Names A-Z

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Horse Names Coat Color & Patterns

Horse Names By Events/Activities/Sports

Horse Names By Breeds

  • Appaloosa Horse Names
  • Mustang Horse Names

Horse Naming Ideas


  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_racing
  • www.registry.jockeyclub.com