THERE’S ONLY ONE SPANISH STEPS
Keith Knight decries the re-use of famous equine names
On my website – horseracing matters.com – 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.