What's in a Name?
Cornelius Lysaght looks at the way we name thoroughbreds
Watching Opulence’s Puddlesinthepark run in a maiden hurdle at Ffos Las I found myself struck by even more than the obvious truth that here was a lovely looking, nicely-bred racehorse now qualified for a handicap mark after again demonstrating encouragement for the future.
To me he also has that great advantage of having been gifted a terrific name. Using as a starting point the Evan Williams-trained five-year-old’s dad, one of the stallions-of-the-moment Walk In the Park, whoever did the naming has come up with something nice and catchy, craftily pushing together words in order to stay within the rules.
Racing authorities insist that only eighteen letters and spaces may be employed – and no potential rude words or terms, in any language: at administrators Weatherbys there is said to be a shelf packed with all sorts of international dictionaries to investigate any dodgy-looking words.
Despite folklore to the contrary, all attempts at approval for Norfolk’N’Chance – if necessary, say it out loud – have failed, but Weatherbys’ cockney rhyming slang volume must have gone missing as I recall reporting on Who Gives A Donald.
Back to Puddlesinthepark, and I don’t know about you but in my mind I can definitely ‘hear’ ITV commentator Richard Hoiles, in full flow, describing that name putting in “a prodigious leap at the last to go clear” before “charging up the Cheltenham hill for a famous victory” – there’s nothing wrong with dreaming.
And memorable handles do have a good record as evidenced by jumpers like Tiger Roll, Best Mate and, going way back now, Desert Orchid and Red Rum amongst many others, while on the flat as well as his unbeaten record and the iconic status of his trainer Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel’s reputation was only enhanced by everyone being able to instantly recall his name, something which was not necessarily the case with the only once defeated Baaeed.
The status of the two highest profile horses of the current jumps season – Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle – and the anticipation of a clash between them in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March is down principally, of course, to their achievements on the track but it’s probably all the greater because both have names onto which people can easily latch.
Things are different in France; have you seen some of the imports from across the Channel? There may be plenty of exceptions but sometimes they have been christened with a frankly mind-boggling set of words that are practically impossible to pronounce or shorten, and while some relate to the studs at which the horses were bred others have no meaning at all, in French or in any other language.
The rules in Britain say that once a horse has raced the name cannot be changed, but there would probably be a reluctance to do so anyway because of an old racing superstition that making the alteration is unlucky, something much-mentioned when the brilliant Dubai Millennium – originally Yaazer – died of grass sickness aged five after just one season as a stallion. His sole crop included Dubawi no less.
Opulence Thoroughbred owners have traditionally gone for strong, distinctive names, selected for a variety of reasons, and the 2023 two-year-olds are no exception: Laguna Boy (Stuart Williams) is named after Laguna Beach a regular holiday destination in California and Forever Noah after a precious grandson; Beveragino (Michael Bell) shares her name with a favourite English sparkling wine and Winkster (Ed Walker) with a much-loved puppy.
Much thought went into coming up with Ureshii (Andrew Balding). As the Balding team trained Kameko – ‘tortoise’ or ‘turtle’ in Japanese – to win the 2000 Guineas in 2020, Mark and Denise Woodley who were big admirers of that Classic winner successfully chose another word from Japan, this one translating to ‘happy’ because that is their feeling when with racehorses.
I’d name that as a great thought, at the start of what will hopefully be another great year.