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Three weanlings at stud Three weanlings at stud
Before racing
Racing career
It’s all in the genes
The Thoroughbred racehorses we see on racecourses throughout Britain are magnificent mixtures of power and grace, strength and beauty, stamina and speed. These qualities do not happen by accident; rather, they are the result of careful breeding with a specialised goal in mind – to win races.

Years before a Thoroughbred steps on to a racecourse, the breeding process plays a very important part in determining its physical attributes and temperament. Like humans, the qualities of a Thoroughbred are very strongly influenced by its parents and wider family tree. As a result, a hugely complex breeding industry has developed in the quest to find perfection in a racehorse.

Typically, a Thoroughbred’s life will begin on a stud farm. These are the factories of the breeding industry, with some 300 stud farms in Britain producing over 5,000 Thoroughbred foals each year. Most stud farms are privately owned, although you can visit the National Stud in Newmarket to see how a leading stud operates.

Many stud farms have at least one stallion whose sole purpose is to ‘cover’ carefully selected mares to produce a foal. Often, stallions and mares come from a family of winning racehorses. Owners choose a stallion whose characteristics best complement those of their mare and whose nomination fee falls within their financial bracket. The mare is then sent to be covered at the stud where the stallion is standing.

The Thoroughbred breeding season runs from February to July in the Northern Hemisphere, and the gestation period is around 11 months. As all racehorses celebrate their official birthday on January 1, the aim is to ensure foals are born in the months just after the New Year, to give them as much time as possible to mature before they go racing.

When a Thoroughbred foal reaches its first birthday, it is referred to as a yearling. During this time, horses bred to run on the flat are usually prepared for the ‘yearling sales’ held at special Thoroughbred auction house at the end of that year. Horses bred to race over jumps usually take longer to mature. Typically, they aren’t ready to race or to sell until they are around three or four years old.

After being bought at the sales, the yearling will go to a trainer to learn to wear a saddle and bridle, respond to a rider and, if it is a flat racehorse, go through starting stalls (some like it, some definitely don’t!).

The Naming of Racehorses
In their early years before racing, Thoroughbred foals and yearlings don’t have their own names. Instead, they are referred to by their colour, sex and the name of their sire (father) and dam (mother). For example, the great Nijinsky would have been ‘a bay colt by Northern Dancer out of Flaming Page’.

However, when a Thoroughbred is registered to race, its owners have to name it. Horses’ names are constructed in all sorts of ways. One of the most common is to try and combine elements from the horse’s sire and dam. Grand National legend Red Rum was by Quorum out of Mared, hence his name. Other names can reflect personal associations, such elements of the owners’ name or nickname, or even names which advertise a company.

The naming of racehorses in Britain is very carefully controlled by Weatherbys, the company which oversees many administrative areas of the sport. Strict criteria are applied in judging what name a horse can and cannot be given.

For example, horses names cannot be longer than 18 characters and spaces and names currently on the Register of Horse Names or names of horses who have won a major flat or jump race cannot be used (so there can only be one Best Mate or Shergar). And most famously, names whose meaning, pronunciation or spelling is obscene or insulting are prohibited.

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