Africa is a Horse

In the ambient stale haze of my father’s fags, among the empties and forlorn pages of racing print stained in stout, I have found myself glancing through the debris of an afternoon’s handicapping, pausing at the almost impenetrable nomenclature and knowledge contained therein, developing a random yet fond attachment to certain horses.

You couldn’t make up the outrageous names given to some beautiful beasts. Most though are fortunate to acquire quaint or jolly designations. A few have topical names, such as the obvious: Obamarama or Obama Rule. There are five thoroughbreds with an Obama name or prefix. More interestingly are the increasing numbers of horses representing Africa. I am not referring to horses bred or training in Africa, of which there are some notable champions and contenders, but rather the growing trend of adding an African appellation to a horse’s name.

A serious punter never picks a horse by name. It is the trainer, the booked jockey, the weight to be carried, the past course and distance record, breeding and the prize money that inform deliberations on equine investments. The name may provide a key clue to a horse’s family tree, but more often it is happenstance or a cute choice by an owner or syndicate. So what is it about Africa and why is it trending on birth certificates at stud farms?

Africa may register little in horse racing history, though it would be wrong to assume African names are a recent equine development. Horse racing aficionados have long had a penchant for placing an African prefix to a horse’s name. One could easily guess the names of such creatures: African Safari, African Sunset, African Queen and African Warrior are all horses who have raced across eras and jurisdictions, evoking for the casual rail bird or equine sophisticate that sultry yet wild expansive continent starring Stuart Granger and Deborah Kerr or Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan or for the discerning documentarian that glorious space of savannah and swamp as narrated by Lorne Greene.

Romantics and voyeurs have not had a historical monopoly over African horse names, however. The more down to earth breeders and owners have also kept the handicapper busy, reminding punters what Africa has really been all about. Preciously named horses such as African Diamond and African Gold have promenading history in the paddock. More recently such shiny animals have been joined by the likes of African Oil, a 2 year old bay colt bred in France who slickly strutted his stuff across England’s green and pleasant turf this past summer.

But now a whole other generation of curious about Africa horse breeders and owners are upon us. Those with the power to own and name a horse have new experiences and influences to call upon. The post-Band-Aid-Jet-Set has largely upped stakes from camp Africa and would never knowingly own a blood diamond. They cruise around in a cacophony of Bono interviews and eponymous Paul Simon tunes. George Clooney movies clutter their DVD rack and they share Nick Kristof on Facebook, often. Kristof endorsed paperbacks can be found on the back seat shag of the Range Rover, though they prefer not to deface the rear of their souped-up jalopy with “Save Darfur” bumper stickers. This is the generation that feels Africa in ways their tweedy parents never did. This generation is not about exploitation and cheering on mercenaries and or Tarzan, though they prefer not to mention mining shares their grandparents cautiously placed in their portfolios. The modern horse owner wears Hunter Wellies — a conscience and sustainable fashion choice, which also provide jobs in Ghana’s rubber industry. The modern horse owner has hiked up Kilimanjaro and raised cash for noble causes. The modern horse owner supported the No Fly Zone and NATO sorties over and freedom for Libya.

And so it follows there are now whole new categories of African horse names. We have African Action, African Appeal and African Art. There is even an Africanist, a 3 year old grey roan colt, who ran sixth when last up at Churchill Downs. Africanist was sired by the prolific stallion, Johannesburg, who was noteworthy for winning a Breeders Cup Juvenile, and currently stands at stud in Japan. There are even African names set aside for just the right future foal, such as African Hope.

It is not just Africa or African that is en vogue. Horses named after African countries are also relatively commonplace these days. For instance, the next running of the Melbourne Cup on November 6th, the world’s richest handicap race, “the race that stops a nation,” with over 6 Million Australian dollars in the purse, has a 4 year old bay gelding called Ethiopia entered. Ethiopia is proven Group 1 (highest race classification) winner, taking last year’s Australian Derby at the Royal Randwick track in Sydney.

Most African countries now have at least one horse name after it. Burkina Faso is one of the few exceptions. Maybe one day if I hit the sweepstakes, I will join the fraternity of horse owners and name my horse, Thomas Sankara. It would be quite the scene to see a horse named after a Pan-Africanist Revolutionary Marxist have his nose rubbed by the Queen of England in the winning circle at Royal Ascot or draped in garlands at Churchill Downs in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Comments

comments

David Patrick Lane

David Patrick Lane has contributed to Sports Illustrated, The Guardian, Roads & Kingdoms. He wrote about Uruguayan football in the book Africa's World Cup (University of Michigan Press, 2013).

12 Comments
  1. BTW, I dodn’t bother to read. Just followed to see what BS wants to name their horse THOMAS SANKARA. Fucking closet racists neoliberals ‘Africa Is A Country’ Cunts. Don’t touch Sankara’s name.

      1. ‘Dodn’t” was a fucking typing error and you know it. I suppose you guessed I’m some African? If you thought I was some white shit, you’d make the provision it was typing error. Fuck this shit.

  2. Strange post, strange angry comments. I don’t want to wade in to whatever that’s about, but I will point out that race-horse names are often chosen to reflect lineage…are any of you old enough to remember the Dancers? Native Dancer being, I think, the most famous, though I am not an expert. So perhaps the sudden surge in Africa-related names simply reflects that sires with Africa-related names are doing well at stud and producing colts and fillies that make it to the track? That would kind of blow up the whole premise of the post, though. I think.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Susan.

      I noted your reference to lineage in the third paragraph above, “the name may provide a key clue to a horse’s family tree..” For example, the Ante Post Fav. for the Melbourne Cup on November 6th is Mount Athos, a gelding sired by the great Montjeu — winner of 11 major races, including classics such as the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe in 1999. Of course, the new favourite (per this morning’s forfeit stage) of this year’s Prix de l’arc de Triomphe on Sunday, October 7th is a 3 year old colt who runs by the name of Camelot. Camelot was also sired by the great Montjeu, but his name does not contain a mountain reference. It was personal choice of Sue Magnier, the millionaire part owner of the horse.

      I was less trying to show a surge in African named horses, but rather perhaps show a subtle evolution of African related names that somewhat reflect a change in how a certain class of folks view Africa. It was not intended to be scientific, but rather an opportunity to share or introduce the sport and its random Africa equine namesakes to some readers who maybe temporarily overdosed on football.

    1. I guess motherfuckers are tired of white writers trying to be the authoritative voices on all things African! If at least they had anything enlightening to see… instead all they do is show their mastery of the art of shit talking.

  3. One of the things that AIAC’s corespondents have noticed, as our readership and popularity have grown, is this sort of immediate/knee-jerk questioning of a writer’s legitimacy to comment on anything African – as evidenced by @Ditto’s anger about who gets to write about Africa. Most surmise a writer’s ethnicity and therefore ‘right to write’ using the writer’s name as evidence of (il)legitimacy.

    In the case of Davy Lane’s humourous, yet quite biting take on horse owners, their aspirations towards ‘Africa,’ as reflected in the names of their horses over the course of the 20th and 21st century, there’s nothing here that speaks of ‘speaking for Africa’; instead, it’s a commentary on how Empire/citizens of Empire still relate to those lands that they still see as a colony – consciously or subconsciously. Horsey culture is an excellent ground for noting those proprietory (sp? sorry english police) tendencies, as horses, riders, and racing culture often followed colonisers to colonies (and back again, too).

    Can’t Lane then comment on how ‘his’ people (beginning with his father’s own gambles with racing) continue to relate to the dreamscape of ‘Africa’ via horses’ names? When Lane ends by fantasising about a champion horse named Sankara, and the Queen having to rub its nose, it’s a jest (but a jest with overtones of sweet revenge) about the powers that be being forced to recognise a revolutionary’s victory, not a reference meant to defile that incredible man’s legacy (the irony being that Sankara was a revolutionary who made his mark by demonstrating – via philosophical and embodied rhetoric – his nation’s lack of need for recognition/support from former colonial powers). Lane’s last sentences convey a sort of double irony, in fact, mocking the queen who ‘recognises’ the victory of a victor who couldn’t care less about the accolades she confers.
    We’d be a collective horse’s ass to think otherwise.

  4. Summary of post: some horses these days have African related names. Some horses in the past had African related names. Is there a trend here? Not really sure, but let me write 1,000 words trying to see if there is… oh, turns out there isn’t.

    AIAC does seem to have a growing tendancy towards posting this pseudo-intellectual clap-trap. Davy, if you aim was to introduce the world of “random Africa equine namesakes” to a broader audience perhaps a more accessibly written article would have sufficed.

    Say, in one paragraph.

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©Africa is a Country, 2016