Keith Knight de­cries the re-use of fa­mous equine names


On my web­site – horserac­ing mat­ – you will find a seem­ingly never-end­ing list of pos­si­ble names in­tended for use by any owner in need of in­spi­ra­tion in what I am told is the dif­fi­cult task of nam­ing a race­horse.

I am yet to be con­vinced this task is in any way dif­fi­cult but then I have yet to have the where­withal to buy an un­named race­horse. I re­alise that it paints me in a poor light but if I stum­bled across a bot­tle con­tain­ing a mis­used ge­nie the only re­ward I would ac­cept for re­leas­ing the poor soul would be to own a string of race­horses. Not the wealth and life­style, you un­der­stand, to pay the ex­penses in­curred by such a large num­ber of horses, just the im­prob­a­bil­ity of hav­ing them run un­der my name.

As it is, cir­cum­stance only al­lows me to skate wide-eyed around the fringes of our great sport; nev­er­the­less horse rac­ing is the cen­tre of my small uni­verse. From a small boy plonked down in front of a black and white tele­vi­sion one Satur­day af­ter­noon while my par­ents went into town to buy me a birth­day present, my imag­i­na­tion and dreams have been hooked to the won­der of the thor­ough­bred. Even now as a man in age closer to the grave than the length of time since the pass­ing of ‘Grand­stand’, Sco­bie Breasley, Doug Smith and the long-lost relics of turf his­tory that are the aban­doned gems of Alexan­dra Park and Lewes race­courses, the sport re­mains a source of to­tal in­ter­est.

I will ar­gue that the names of race­horses is sin­gu­larly the most im­por­tant as­pect of our sport. Names rep­re­sent vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one’s en­try point to the sport. Race­horse names are the soul of the sport.

On a shelf close to my desk are won­der­ful books com­mem­o­rat­ing the lives and achieve­ments of such horses as Sprinter Sacre, Frankel, Desert Orchid, Mos­cow Flyer,Per­sian Punch,Brown Jack, Eclipse, Arkle, Bat­tle­ship, Red Rum, Monks­field and one (yet un­read) that tells the com­ing to­gether of Bobby Beasley and the Chel­tenham Gold Cup win­ner Cap­tain Christy. Not one of the names listed can be cat­e­gorised as ‘silly’ or ‘dis­re­spect­ful’. They are hon­ourable names be­fit­ting hon­ourable he­roes of our sport.

If ‘we’, that is ev­ery­one in­volved in our sport from Port­man Square to those who daily keep the great ship afloat,do not set out to re­flect an image to the out­side world of re­spect and dig­nity for the horses that bear the load then we be­come easy prey for those who in their ig­no­rance wish us harm.

So I ob­ject to ‘silly’ names. I also ob­ject, and my great­est rac­ing hero J.P.McManus is a prime cul­prit, in names that run a coach and four through the ac­cepted spell­ing of words, espe­cially the ‘Foot­stepsinthe­sands’ sort of name. But my dan­der is well and truly hurled at the wind by the use of fa­mous names from the past. Names that should be al­lowed to die with the horses who car­ried those names to dis­tinc­tion.

There are over 6,900 lan­guages in this world.The Bi­ble has been trans­lated into over 2,500 lan­guages.In France there are 10 Ro­mance lan­guages. There is Gaelic. The English lan­guage alone con­tains mil­lions of words and phrases. So it is both lazy and dis­re­spect­ful of Cool­more to name a Galileo colt Span­ish Steps.

For those of you too young to know of Span­ish Steps a quick re­sume might be in or­der.He won the 3-mile novice chase at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val in 1968. He won the 1969 Hen­nessey car­ry­ing top weight. He won a host of other top races and was 2nd in the King Ge­orge and placed in sev­eral Chel­tenham Gold Cups.He was 4th in the 1973 Grand Na­tional giv­ing Red Rum 22lbs when the first four home all broke Golden Miller’s course record. And for good mea­sure he was so pop­u­lar that Michael Tan­ner wrote a book about his life.If I owned a copy it would take pride of place in my rac­ing li­brary.

So you are now fully aware of what fu­els this ob­ses­sion I have with the names of race­horses. But please do not dis­miss my ob­ses­sion, my heart­felt ar­gu­ment, in the same ca­sual way I wish to dis­miss the right of own­ers to name their horses in any way they seem fit.

As with Span­ish Steps, names con­jure mem­o­ries. Who won the 1973 Grand Na­tional?Yes, Noel Le Mare was in­volved and Gin­ger McCain and Brian Fletcher played a ma­jor part but ask the ques­tion in a pub quiz and the only ac­cept­able an­swer will be Red Rum. Who won in 1982? Grit­tar. Sec­ond in 1968? Moidore’s To­ken. Race­horse names; path­ways through time. Petty Of­fi­cer. Grey Of Fal­lo­den. Trelawney. At­tivo. Fred­die. Wyn­d­burgh. Dublin Flyer.

The names of race­horse are the build­ing blocks that de­ter­mine the his­tory of our sport.Not only the win­ners of Clas­sics but also the names of horses that af­ter they leave the race­course leave an in­deli­ble mark on the mem­ory. In al­low­ing the re­use of such names we are demon­strat­ing dis­re­spect for what the race­horse gifts us – our sport.

I say again, it is both lazy and dis­re­spect­ful of Cool­more to use the name of a great steeplechaser for a horse that can only ever be a lesser be­ing. I pro­pose a cher­ished list of fa­mous names be es­tab­lished so that the names of great stal­warts are al­lowed to rest in peace.

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