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Names of Fame


There are a lot of crazy horse names in this world and racehorses, for some reason, seem to have a monopoly on some of the strangest.

There is a good chance that the most noted one is Hoof Hearted. No doubt because it sounds funny when the race caller announces it. I’m unable to find out who named the horse that comical yet slightly cringeworthy name, so it will have to remain a mystery. For now. 

Since I fell at the first hurdle, as it were, I decided to pick a few names that are a little more household in nature. Not only was I able to find out the origin of these three horse names, but each horse comes with an interesting story.

Phar Lap


Who can forget the movie Phar Lap? A true story about a 17hh chestnut thoroughbred taking the Australian race world by storm. 

It is one of the greatest horse movies out there with the hunky Tom Burlinson playing Tommy Woodcock, that same hunky man that played Jim Craig in The Man from Snowy River. If the horses weren’t enough of a drawing card to watch the movies, then surely Burlinson was. 

But how did Phar Lap get such a curious name? 

No one knows for certain how his name came to be, but the most common story is that medical student, Aubrey Ping of southern Chinese descent who studied at the University of Sydney, often found herself at Randwick Racecourse watching the horses workout. She spent enough time there that she could often be found chatting with trainers, owners and riders, when in fact she should probably have been studying.

It seems that Ping suggested the name Phar Lap to someone important enough that the name was given to the gangly gelding who was often referred to as ‘giraffe’ or ‘the ugly duckling of the racecourse’. The words phar lap are Zhuang and Thai meaning lightning. How fitting the name turned out to be.

Phar Lap won the vast majority of his 51 races and earned the tidy sum of $66,738 AUS, which equalled just over $60,000 CAD or $44,000 USD, keeping in mind that was almost 100 years ago.

Though New Zealand breed, Phar Lap raced almost the entirety of his career in Australia. The wondrous thing is that he could win running 7 furlongs or two miles. 

Having won pretty well every race in Australia the owners set their sights on North America. There Phar Lap beat some of the best American horses in the Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico which at the time was the richest horse race in the world.  

However, within weeks after the race, Phar Lap died in the arms of his groom Tommy Woodcock under mysterious circumstances. His necropsy report stated that he likely died of colic or bacterial infection. There were however traces of arsenic found in his system and only speculation as to how he really died remains.

The necropsy report also stated that Phar Lap had a huge heart that weighed 14 lbs (6.35 kg) which is 1.5 times larger than the average thoroughbred heart which weighs between 6.6-8.8 lbs (3-4kg).

After his death his heart went to the National Institute of Anatomy in Canberra, his skeleton went to the Dominion Museum in New Zealand and his mounted hide went to the National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne

Red Rum


Red Rum, the Irish breed bay gelding was one of the greatest racehorses in Britain and Ireland. Though he was bred for flat racing his career was all about the jumps. 

Thanks to the book/movie The Shining we all know that Red Rum spells murder backwards, but that is not why Red Rum was given his name. Instead, the owners took the last three letters from the dam’s name Mared and the last three letters from his sire’s name Quorum and came up with Red Rum.

Red Rum is known for winning the famous Grand National steeplechase, which is a 4-mile, 2.5-furlong distance race with 30 jumping efforts. Not only did he win the Grand National he won it three times and ran second twice. His final win was at the age of 12 in 1977 when he won by 25 lengths. 

In total, the 16.2 hand gelding ran 100 races (24-15-23) and earned £146,409.80, which equalled close to $240,000 CAD or $173,000 USD. Baring in mind that was some 55 years ago. Word on the street has it that “Rummy” made more in his retirement doing public appearances than he did during his racing career. 

Rummy lived a long life and died at the age of 30. He was buried at the winning post of the Aintree Racecourse, home of the Grand National.



Everybody knows about Big Red and of course, Disney did a movie about the strapping 16.2hh chestnut stallion entitled, Secretariat in 2010.

The story behind his name is no big secret. Elizabeth Ham, secretary to Chris Chenery father to Penny Chenery, was once a secretariat at the United Nations and picked the name as it was one of her favourites.

When Secretariat was a 2-year-old he was syndicated for a whopping $6.08 million which was a ton of money back then. To be fair, it’s still a nice chunk of change today.

Secretariat was the ninth winner of the Triple Crown in 1973, setting track records during all three races and winning the Belmont by 31 lengths in a time of 2:24 for 1 ½ miles which is a world record that many feel will never be broken.

In total, he won $1,316,808.00 for himself and his owners. Secretariat started 21 times, won 16 of those races and finished in the money in all but his first one. 

In 1999 Secretariat was the only non-human to be named in ESPN’s 50 Greatest Athletes of the Century. Upon retirement, Penny Chenery sold his breeding rights for $6 million, and Secretariat went on to sire nearly 600 offspring. 

In October of 1989 Secretariat, at the age of 19, had to be put down due to laminitis. For some reason a necropsy was performed and that is when the discovery of his enormous heart was made, weighing in between 21-22 lbs (9.5-10 kg) which is three times larger than the average thoroughbred. 

Secretariat is buried at Claiborne Farms in Kentucky where he stood at stud during his breeding career.  

Interestingly, Sham’s heart weighed 18 lbs (8.2 kg). Sham was Secretariat’s number one rival. 

Until Next Time

There is a slew of horse names out there waiting to be investigated. Perhaps Seattle Slew is the perfect starting point for my next post on the same subject. 

Sources: ; ; ;

Feature Image: Phar Lap

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