Racehorse naming subject to rules

What’s in a name?  It’s Melbourne Cup season, and when scanning through the start list for the Melbourne Cup (or any other event) it never ceases to amaze the colourful racehorse names listed. Names like Almandin, Makybe Diva, and Phar Lap spring to mind.

There seems to be no bounds to what you can call your racehorse.  But you would be wrong.  Under the Racing Act 2008, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Incorporated (NZTR) is obliged to maintain rules that regulate the conduct of racing, and those rules include what you can (and cannot) call your racehorse.  NZTR is also party to an international agreement that governs horseracing best practice, which also provides a guideline for racehorse names.

It is that guideline that NZTR applies when approving names, and that guideline provides that names will not be approved if they: have more than eighteen characters; include punctuation or are an acronym; are a name of a public person or of commercial significance and the appropriate permission has not been sought; have vulgar, obscene, or insulting meanings; or are in poor taste, or offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups.

So the NZTR has wide discretion to approve (or not) names according to its views.  What might be offensive, vulgar or suggestive to one person, might not be so to another.

In a recent case Stirling Bloodstock Limited v New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Incorporated, the High Court was asked to review a decision by NZTR to decline registration of the names “Lip Up Fatty” and subsequently “Rotten Culture”.  Seemingly benign names on first glance, but NZTR took a different view, and the High Court agreed.

The problem was that the same applicant had earlier unsuccessfully applied to register “Dotcom Go Home”, and then “Lip Up Fatty”, before submitting the application for “Rotten Culture”.  With “Dotcom Go Home” NZTR considered (perhaps rightly) that this name would be offensive to some people including Mr Kim Dotcom.  With “Lip Up Fatty” NZTR considered that, despite the name being the name of a song by band, “Bad Manners” it may be offensive to some people.  By the time NZTR had got around to considering “Rotten Culture” it considered that the name was associated with dysfunctional organisations (having searched the term on Google), and saw it as a “dig” at NZTR.  The horse was eventually registered with the name “Dontpokethetiger”.

Overall, the Court found that the naming guidelines leave a large measure of discretion to individual authorities to assess registrations in their local contexts as to what might be insulting or in poor taste.  Context is everything, and perhaps the Stirling Bloodstock Limited case is an example of an applicant getting off to a bad start with the relevant controlling authority.  As the Court has affirmed, NZTR has “complete discretion” in approving registration applications.

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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Philip McCarthy