The Glorious Insanity Of Owning A Racehorse Part II

More stories from behind the racehorse scene, this time a look at the logic behind mentalist names such as Tickle Time and Rockme Cockney.
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Imagine if, until Harper Seven goes to school, she were to be known only as ‘a girl by Golden Balls out of Posh Spice’. This is the way they name racehorses. A juvenile horse is not named until it is approaching race readiness and then needs to be registered, in the UK, with Weatherbys (founded in 1770), the repository for all thoroughbred listing and breeding information. For the first year or more a thoroughbred is simply known by its dad and mum.

Syndicate members with a share in an unraced juvenile therefore have plenty of time to suggest names for their horse to the syndicate organiser, usually a breeder/owner. If our experience is anything to go by, all suggestions are gratefully ignored.

The tradition in these things is to reflect lineage in the name. Thus one of our two horses, ‘a bay filly by Cockney Rebel out of Rock Lily’ is racing as Rockme Cockney. Grand National legend Red Rum was once ‘a bay colt by Quorum out of Mared’ and became ‘murder’ spelt backwards.

Yet this custom is by no means cast in stone. You can be as frivolous or sentimental in the naming process as you like, providing old Mr Weatherby approves. A name cannot be crude, insulting, that of a notorious person, more than 18 letters or the same as a famous racehorse of the past (there’ll never be another Shergar or Desert Orchid). It must not be ‘misleading’. If you think ‘The Winner’ might be a cool name for a racehorse, forget it. You wouldn’t get within a splash of Mr Weatherby’s baptism font. It would confuse the call of the race when your nag is about to be swamped by decent horses as the winning post approaches.

There is a fair bit of ‘downtime’ as a racehorse owner. It’s not like following a premier league side when you only have to go through those terrible two weeks in summer

There are other areas in which the syndicateur has no involvement, no say. A proper race horse owner is in weekly, often daily, touch with the trainer. Coups are plotted, ante-post gambles considered, a dietary variation discussed. In the big leagues of racehorse ownership all this can get so exciting that the owner employs his or her own racing manager as an intermediary. As a syndicateur, you are very downstream from these deliberations. An occasional email from the syndicate organiser is a delight. ‘Not much to report. Tickle Time has minor shin problems so we will delay his maiden outing and look for softer going in September’. One dwells on this information for ages, and begins to feel a slight sensitivity in the shin bone oneself.

There is a fair bit of ‘downtime’ as a racehorse owner. It’s not like following a premier league side when you only have to go through those terrible two weeks in summer when there is only fevered transfer talk crowding out the cricket on the back pages of the dailies. As a footie fan you want on-field action and to count down the days until your team flies off to the Far East to sell the new away strip, or create a buzz before listing on the Singapore Stock Exchange. And to read on the club website that your side is looking for ‘a result’ against Kuala Lumpur Fridge Magnets and it’s all about ‘momentum’.

In the horse racing game, such thrills are denied us. Our other 2 year-old in training, a Manduro filly called Shestheman, hasn’t even appeared on the racetrack. We had an email six weeks ago saying she’s ‘progressing nicely; not too long now’. It’s a game of patience, before disappointment.

As a race day approaches the text and email traffic cranks up. Expectation builds. And then falls flat as your horse, the 5-2 joint favourite, saunters in sixth in a field of nine as happened last week with our other horse, Rockme Cockney. You tend to stay out of the pub for a while; so called mates can get rather frosty when they’ve spent the last week buying you beer to hear just how much of a ‘good thing’ your horse is on the coming Wednesday at Wolverhampton.

Each, you begin to understand, had not only chucked £50 away themselves but had conspiratorially passed on the tip to others as in ‘I have a mate who owns a racehorse and he says…’ And there’s always one bloke who tells his boss, or his father-in-law, and that is absolutely when you cannot breeze up to the bar and say:

“Well, that’s racing for you, lads.” You’ll get called all sorts of names, and none of them frivolous or sentimental.

The Glorious Insanity Of Owning A Racehorse Part I

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