LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — Long before the likes of Rich Strike and other horse racing legends made a name for themselves by crossing the finish line first, they needed a name.

That’s where the folks at The Jockey Club of Lexington come in.

“The very first thing that happens is it goes through a phonetics process to make sure there’s not a similar sounding name that already is in existence,” Kristin Werner, senior council, said.

Werner said that’s to avoid confusion as races play out. For example, what would happen if a race pitted “Beautiful Sea” against “Beautiful See?”

“You wouldn’t actually know which one you’re talking about because the name sounds exactly the same,” Werner said.

Some names have been used more than once throughout horse racing history. Generally, names are available for use again after a horse has been out of racing or breeding for 10 years. But, Grade 1 Stakes winners are protected for 25 years.

You’ll only see the greatest champions’ names, like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Man o’ War, on things like street signs. Their names are never available for duplication on the dirt or turf.

As legend has it, Kentucky Derby winner Paul Jones was named in honor of Admiral John Paul Jones or a famous brand of whiskey in the 1920s.

Horse Paul Jones is the winner of the 46th Kentucky Derby, with jockey Teddy Rice in the saddle, May 8, 1920, in Louisville, Kentucky. (AP Photo)

Horse owners also sometimes name their animals based on space markings or other physical appearance features.

“If, maybe, a foal had an accident or something when they were young and got a scar, they might get a name that’s boxing-related,” Werner said.

But movie legend Rocky Balboa’s nickname, “The Italian Stallion,” would never be approved because no horse name can be longer than 18 characters. Therefore, some horse owners choose to jumble letters together in order to squeeze their favorite names within the limit.


Just how important is a horse’s name?

A recent Spring Meet attendee at Keeneland explained how she picks a horse to win when she steps up to the betting window.

“Literally just the horse name. I just pick the name I like the best,” Meagan Cook said.

It’s hardly an exact science, but if it leads to your horse crossing the finish line first, who are we to start name-calling?