Weatherbys, founded in 1770 and based in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, is one of the bodies that, under contract from the British Horseracing Board, administers horseracing in the UK. The predominant role of Weatherbys falls into three categories: Racing Administration, Racing Operations, and Editorial Services. However, it also offers banking services and a registration service for all horses, not just thoroughbreds, in the form of the Stud Book. The Stud Book helps to maintain an accurate record of the bloodlines of UK equine stock, and extends over 200 years.
The registration of racehorses' names, of owners' colours, the details of horses' ownership and their passports are all handled through this department.
No two living racehorses are allowed to share the shame name. Even if a horse has been retired, a name cannot be repeated. Although it is possible to reuse a name following the death of a horse, this is not recommended and there are particular names — belonging to especially famous horses — that are protected. This ensures that there can only ever be one Red Rum or Dubai Millennium. A name cannot be longer than eighteen characters, obscenities and registered trade marks are forbidden. Although the names of living people are not normally allowed, those of deceased figures are, for example L.S. Lowry and Mozart.
Every owner has a set of colours, or silks, that are unique. When a horse runs, the jockey will wear the colours of the owner in order to identify the horse. It is at Weatherbys where the records of these colours are registered, to where a new owner must apply and where existing owners must re-register their colours each year. There is nothing to stop an individual from registering a set of colours even if they do not own any horses in training. Previous owners often continue to register their colours in order to retain them for future use. Racing colours are also inheritable: horses owned by the Dukes of Devonshire have raced in straw-coloured silks since 1762, when the Jockey Club first demanded a systematic registration of colours.
Blue is the most popular colour, and blue and yellow the most popular combination. Given that identification is the primary objective of silks, motifs and designs are restricted to simple and bold patterns. Jackets can be plain, seamed, given epaulettes, stripes, hoops, sashes, cross-belts, chevrons, checks, spots, diamonds, stars, discs, crosses of Lorraine or be halved or quartered. Sleeves can be plain, hooped, striped, seamed or given chevrons, stars or spots. Caps can be plain, hooped, striped, checked, spotted, quartered, starred or given a diamond. There are eighteen basic colours: white, grey, pink, red, maroon, light green, emerald green, dark green, light blue, royal blue, dark blue, mauve, purple, yellow, orange, beige, brown and black. These are divided into 159 separate tones. Scottish families are able to register their clan tartan as their racing colours. Should an owner be fortunate enough to have two runners in the same race, the most usual course of action is to change the cap of the 'second string' horse. Thus, Godolphin, who race their horses in plain royal blue, would distinguish their second horse with a white cap. (This continues with a black cap for the third, and a red one for the fourth.) Mrs John Magnier, whose first set of colours are plain dark blue, owns an entire set of second colours: plain pink. She purchased this second set at auction some four years ago, for a considerable sum of money.
Horses can be bought and sold, but the racing community likes to know who is in possession of which horse. Weatherbys maintain the records of ownership.
Every racehorse has a passport. These passports contain details of their breeding, their identifying features (such as whirls, stars, white feet) that are marked onto a chart by a vet, their vaccinations, their owner and trainer and their microchip number. Horses cannot race without their identity being checked against their passports, and they cannot travel overseas without them, either. Weatherbys officially issue thoroughbred equine passports.
The Racing Operations department handles all of the data and information pertinent to each race run in Great Britain. Initial entries and final declarations are made to Weatherbys — essentially, they control which horses are running in which races and record who will ride them. Details such as horses wearing blinkers, the draw, the weight carried by each horse and its handicap are also routed through Weatherbys, making it the offical database for each race. It also records the outcome of each race, too, making it something of an archive.
Choosing the right race for a horse is not that easy. It needs to be over the right distance, on the right type of track, against a similar class of competitor. With hundreds of meetings and thousands of races each season, Weatherbys provides details of every race in various publications. These range from general race information and conditions in The Programme Book to more detailed information, including entries, made in the weekly Racing Calendar. The Flat and National Hunt Pattern Race annuals help trainers to map out programmes of races across an entire season for their more capable horses.
Maintaining the catalogue:
- The Book of Racing Colours, The Jockeys' Association of Great Britain (Birmingham, 1973).