Fifty Shades of Hay: The Extraordinary World of Racehorse Names

“To all the horses who have risen above the silly names they have been given and to those owners who have given their horses jolly good names” — this is the acknowledgement written by David Ashforth, the author of the newly released book, Fifty Shades of Hay: The Extraordinary World of Racehorse Names.

Indeed this book gives fascinating insight to how racehorses are named; from famous owners such as The Queen, to the equine greats, including Desert Orchid, Frankel, Galileo and so many more. From the brilliantly clever, to the plain terrible, this book features some of the best (and worst!) racehorse names out there.

David is a prolific racing writer, with upwards of 28 years of experience, and he was twice voted Horserace Writer of the Year.

In this book, he writes with wit, intelligence and humour, unearthing masterpieces in racehorse naming, such as Press Luncheon, who was by a stallion called Be Friendly and out of a mare named Twaddle. There’s also the Sexcetera chapter, where you can snigger away at those horses who have been named Sheila Blige, Mary Hinge, Muff Diver, Hoof Hearted, Noble Locks, Passing Wind and so on.

Despite the fact that this book deserves to be on every coffee table, it also deserves to be read from cover to cover — it’s fascinating, laugh out loud funny and very, very clever.

Here’s an extract from the chapter titled, How the Big Names Choose Names:

“Coolmore: The Coolmore Goliath, with John Magnier’s big brain inside it, is unlikely to suffer the same fate as the biblical colossus and be felled by David’s sling.

“The breeding and racing operation, the latter in the capable hands of Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle, is to the horseracing industry what the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are to American football. They’re not very popular with some people, either.

“Applying an impressive list of commercial assets, such as strong leadership, sound organisation, extensive knowledge, political influence and lots of money, Coolmore has turned some of the best racehorses in the world into some of the best stallions.

“Susan Magnier, John’s wife, chooses the names to be bestowed on each year’s new inmates and it is no coincidence that most of Coolmore’s best horses, especially the colts, have the most distinguished names. They wouldn’t want one of their duds to be called Camelot, while their next Derby winner and stallion prospect was called Who Gives A Donald.

“Successful naming involves identifying the best horses early and reserving suitably exalted names for use when a potentially top-class one emerges. The names are rarely inspired by those of the horse’s parents.

“Camelot was reputed to have been stored in Sue Magnier’s diary for almost ten years before a 2009 foal by Montjeu out of Tarfah was deemed worthy of the name. He won the 2011 Racing Post Trophy and 2012 2,000 Guineas, Derby and Irish Derby. Good choice!

“The Magniers are averse to interviews but after Ruler Of The World won the 2013 Derby (the fourth of six for Coolmore/Ballydoyle so far), John Magnier said, ‘All the horses are rated on pedigree, then rated as individuals. Sue names all the horses in February/March time. Aidan gives his thoughts from week to week. This horse obviously made his way to the top. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t. We’ve had a lot of bad American presidents.’ Magnier was probably thinking of the human ones, because George Washington the horse did well, although John F. Kennedy was a disappointment.

Sue Magnier’s mother, Jacqueline O’Brien, was born in Australia and when the horse of that name won the 2014 Derby Tom Magnier, John and Sue’s son, said, ‘There was a strong determination to ensure that the name “Australia” was given to a colt considered capable of going right to the very top.’ He did, going on to win the Irish Derby and Juddmonte International.”

Price: Fifty Shades of Hay: The Extraordinary World of Racehorse Names can be purchased for £12.99 from the Racing Post shop. It is also available to buy via Amazon.
Published by: Racing Post Books, 2018

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