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Horse & Law - Issue 19 - Racehorse Naming

06 October 2017

Racehorse naming

Horse owners deliberate for weeks when deciding the name of their racehorse. Some names are painstakingly thought out, or have a story behind them and as a rule owners may name their horses whatever they please. But, if their horse is to be raced in New Zealand then it must be registered and the name must be approved by New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR).

NZTR’s Authority

NZTR is the body which governs the thoroughbred racing industry in New Zealand. NZTR is compelled under the Racing Act 2008 to make and maintain rules which regulate the conduct of racing – the Rules of Racing. Under these rules, NZTR has complete discretion whether or not to approve an application for registration of a horse, and may approve registration of the horse on any terms and conditions it sees fit. This includes the approval of a name.

Further to this authority under New Zealand law, NZTR is a signatory to the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering (Agreement). This Agreement is administered by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, whose aim is to identify and promote best practise in administration for horseracing worldwide. Article 14 of the Agreement provides NZTR with a guideline for the approval of names. The guidelines include that names cannot be rendered or approved if the name:

  • Has more than eighteen characters;
  • Is made up entirely of initials or punctuation marks;
  • Is that of a public person, without that person’s, or their family’s permission, or names of commercial significance without the appropriate permission;
  • Is suggestive or has vulgar, obscene or insulting meanings; or
  • Is considered in poor taste, or the name may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups.

 

Recent Case Law

The 2016 High Court case of Stirling Bloodstock Limited v New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Incorporated was an application for judicial review of NZTR’s decision to reject the names for horses proposed by Stirling Bloodstock Limited.

On 16 September 2014 Stirling Bloodstock Limited’s manager, Mr Dawson, applied to register a horse under the name ‘Dotcom Go Home’. When advised that the name was rejected by NZTR for being deemed inappropriate and offensive to Mr Kim Dotcom, the name ‘Lip Up Fatty’ was submitted as an alternative. This name was also rejected by NZTR on the basis that it was deemed inappropriate given the circumstances by NZTR staff, despite being the name of a song, and may be offensive to some people.

Following this decision by NZTR, Mr Dawson called Racing Australia to seek its review of NZTR’s decision. Racing Australia also advised Mr Dawson that the name would likely also be rejected under their authority.

The horse was subsequently named ‘It Ain’t Over’. However, further name applications were made for other horses which followed a similar pattern – such as ‘Rotten Culture’ – which were also rejected by NZTR.

Decision:

The decision by Justice Clark considered whether NZTR had erred in law in making its decisions, or whether its decision was tainted by irrelevant considerations. It was held that NZTR had acted lawfully in rejecting the name applications - Lip Up Fatty and Rotten Culture - which may generally have been allowed, given Stirling Bloodstock’s prior name application - Dotcom Go Home. It was held that not only had NZTR acted correctly under its authority and obligations, but the consistency in decisions between NZTR and Racing Australia was desirable given that horses may be moved between jurisdictions. The application for judicial review was dismissed, and NZTR was entitled to costs for the proceeding.

Considerations when naming horses

This case highlights the extent of NZTR’s regulatory powers over naming horses and the cross jurisdictional considerations given New Zealand’s relationship with Racing Australia. Accordingly, when naming a horse keep Article 14 in mind to avoid the disappointment of NZTR rejecting your chosen and carefully considered name.

 

Alice Nunn is an Associate in the Equine Team at Norris Ward McKinnon. You can contact Alice at alice.nunn@nwm.co.nz.

Alice Nunn

 

Jess Collett is a Solicitor in the Equine Team at Norris Ward McKinnon. You can contact Jess at jess.collett@nwm.co.nz

Jess Collett cropped for website