In America you can name your child anything you'd like. In fact, names are all the rage - even David Brooks is writing about 'em! Have you ever met a Lexus? Have you read Freakonomics and then noticed all of the Brittanys, Britneys, Brittanis, Brittanies, Brittneys, and Brittnis out there? That's because people are free to name their children whatever they'd like, no matter how foolish you may think it is. But it doesn't work that way in the world of horse racing.
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that horse owner Garrett Redmond cannot name his 4-year-old horse "Sally Hemings." That's right. Redmond wanted to name his race horse over that Sally Hemings - you know, Thomas Jefferson's most famous slave and reputed lover. And cue the awkward silence your brain must be thinking right now.
Judge Alice Batchelder, writing for the three-judge panel, said Redmond has other options that may be approved by the Jockey Club, which forbids horse owners from using names of famous or notorious people without special permission. The club's rules also say that "names considered in poor taste; or names that may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups" won't be approved.The Jockey Club tracks and designates the names of race horses for the state of Kentucky. Without an approved name, your horse can't race at a Kentucky track. Redmond started this all of by suing the Jockey Club and the racing authority after his proposed name was turned down, claiming his constitutional rights had been deprived.
"To be sure, the First Amendment protects horse owners' rights to free speech, and we do not foreclose Mr. Redmond indiscriminately from asserting that right, but the right to free speech is not absolute in all contexts," Batchelder wrote.
Judge Batchelder shot this down, claiming that because the Jockey Club is a private organization with power delegated by the state, it was restrict free speech as long as it doesn't discriminate against any particular viewpoint. She also had some fun with the decision, quoting Shakespeare and citing the band America within her decision.
"In short, because he has spent three years insisting he has a constitutional right to name his horse 'Sally Hemings' and that no other name will do, Mr. Redmond now finds himself, like the songster of the 70s, having 'been through the desert on a horse with no name,"' Batchelder wrote.The said horse now goes by the name "Awaiting Justice," competed in two races in the month of July, and didn't place in either one. I guess the horse is also awaiting a victory as well.
"If he really wants to race or breed this horse in Kentucky, Mr. Redmond will have to come up with a name that complies with the Jockey Club's rules," Batchelder wrote. "A quick look at the Jockey Club's Registry confirms that 'Horse With No Name' is no longer available."
I suppose we've seen the last of Sally Hemings the filly. But we haven't seen the craziest name yet. So I won't be surprised to meet a Bacardi or Armani in the near future, and we'll await the next great horse name as well.