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Ahead Of The Kentucky Derby, 5 Absurd Rules For Naming Racehorses

Keen Ice runs during morning training ahead of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Andy Lyons
Getty Images
Keen Ice runs during morning training ahead of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Itsaknockout, Ocho Ocho Ocho, Keen Ice and American Pharoah.

These are just a few of the oddly named thoroughbreds that will race Saturday at Churchill Downs in the 141st Kentucky Derby — the first leg of the Triple Crown series.

The names for these prize-winning racehorses might be whimsical, but the name-approval process is fairly dull and bureaucratic.

A racehorse owner must first submit the preferred name to The Jockey Club, the body that governs horse racing, says Claire Novak, online features editor for The Blood Horse magazine.

And The Jockey Club has its fair share of odd rules. For example, if you wanted to name your horse after a living person, you would have to get written permission from that individual and submit it to the organization.

Here are some of the best and weirdest rules in the name game:

  • Names may not exceed 18 characters, including spaces. So that rules out"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
  • Names may not end in any horse-related term, such as "filly," "stallion," or "mare." "Black Stallion" would be too easy.
  • A horse may not have a name made entirely out of numbers, and any numbers over 30 have to be completely spelled out. So, nerds, you can't name your horse using binary code.
  • Finally, you can't use a racetrack or one of the top-tier races as an inspiration for your horse's name, so forget about "Preakness Princess."
  • Still, owners manage to get creative. Racehorses have been dubbed all manner of names, including 50 Shades of Hay, Effinex (say that one out loud), My Wife Knows Everything and The Wife Doesn't Know. Those last two ended up racing against each other in 2010.

    The most important rule? You can't submit a racehorse name that already exists. So before you get too attached, make sure to enter your favorite name here to see if it's one of 450,000 names already taken.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

    Corrected: May 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM EDT
    A previous Web version of this story incorrectly called Itsaknockout, Ocho Ocho Ocho, Keen Ice and American Pharoah fillies.
    Julie Alderman
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