Have you had a Grand National sweepstake at work yet? If so, right about now you might just be clutching a piece of paper with a splurge of letters you have never seen together before.
The classics – Red Rum, Frankel – were easy to get your tongue round, but this year’s Grand National features nags called things like Carlito Brigante, Shutthefrontdoor and Godsmejudge.
‘Gas Line Boy’ and ‘Saint Are’ sound more like cryptic crossword clues than racing thoroughbreds, not to mention the too-cool-for-jockey-school Monbeg Dude (owned by none other than royal husband Mike Tindall). How do they come up with these things?
Well here’s the hoof of the matter: every single name registered to race has to be unique. And, with around 250,000 names currently listed, it’s no surprise ideas get weird pretty quickly.
An owner will have many reasons for picking a name, from calling it after their favourite holiday home to trying to catch the eye of the pick-a-horse-and-hope casual better. But actually, there are quite strict rules when it comes to deciding on a name.
As I say, every name must be unique – type your wannabe name into the British Racehorsing Authority website to see if it’s available. Once a name is picked, it stays with that one horse, and no one else can use it for up to 15 years after the horse’s death.
Even when a name does become available, it’s not like someone can pick the name of a previous winner to channel past glories. Famous horse names like Frankel are protected, meaning they can never be re-used.
There are other things to take into consideration too, like: what will it actually sound like when a commentator shouts it during a race?
There are laws to try to stop a race commentary descending into an Alan Partridge-style smut-fest, meaning names that are “suggestive, vulgar, obscene or insulting” or “in poor taste” are banned. Spoilsports.
That’s not to say the odd one doesn’t sneak through – try saying Hoof Hearted, Noble Locks, WearTheFoxHat or Mary Hinge at speed and you’ll see why commentators are wary of being caught out.
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt claims that he’s known owners who deliberately pick tricky monikers: “Some owners are a bit mischievous and will pick names to deliberately trip us up. You need a tremendous amount of general knowledge to know how to pronounce every horse’s name, because there might be the most remote reasons for why a horse is called something.”
Other rules from the British Horseracing Authority include the fact that a horse name cannot be longer can 18 characters or seven syllables long – probably the reason why 2014 Grand National runner Shakalakaboomboom did away with awkward things like spaces and punctuation.
Pronunciation can be an issue, but there are no rules against non-English names. “On the flat we have a great number of Arab names because the Qataris are very prominent indeed in flat racing, so you’re constantly trying to get it right,” Holt explains.
Even with all these regulations, there’s still no getting around the fact that some things are just harder to say than others.
“There aren’t too many difficult ones in the National this year, but there have been a few over the years that are there to trip you up,” Holt says.
“One of the hardest horses I’ve found to pronounce has been a chaser in the past few years called Quantitativeeasing. If you’re fitting all the syllables in it’s quite difficult to say Quan-Ti-Ta-Tive Easing very very quickly. It ran at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this year and I thought, ‘Oh f**k, not Quantitative Easing!’”
So, whether your horse is a banker or a blowout, respect the man with the mic who can name them all – and not burst out laughing.