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Day at the Races: How do jockeys choose their bright colours?

Your guide to getting the most out of the Races.

LAST WEEK, WE looked into the history of the funny, pun-tastic names given to race horses around the world.

Those of us who aren’t big racing aficionados have to admit that sometimes we pick our bets based off what horse has the most giggle-inducing name.

But there are other ways to choose a runner – the form aside, of course – and that’s the jockey’s colours.

Eye-catching polka dots, chequered pastels, bright stripes and chevrons, oh my… Let’s take a look at why exactly the racecourse is such a colourful place.

Why do jockeys wear the mad colours in the first place?

“Colours” (or “silks”) refer to the jackets jockeys wear when they race, and modern colours originate in England – although chariot-racers in Rome may have been the first to sport racing colours.

Colours are first mentioned in records in 1515, when big bad King Henry VIII was on the English throne. They were established properly in the 1700s, when owners lists increased and confusion emerged from duplicate colours. Complaints were raised too when jockeys changed their liveries too often, which caused further confusion.

In 1762, the English Jockey Club at Newmarket requested that owners submit specific colours for their jacket and cap – and the rest is history.

How do the colours get chosen?

Cut to modern-day Ireland. Colours are decided by the horse’s owner – and, indeed, choosing racing colours is described as “one of the most enjoyable aspects of becoming a racehorse owner”.

There are 18 basic colours to choose from – and they can be used in conjunction with 27 jackets and 9 cap designs. Once availability is checked on the colours, they’re registered and suppliers make up the design.

Colours can be registered for a year, five years, 10 years, or life. Unlike horse’s names, colours can be taken by someone else if you cancel registration on them.

Source: tnssofres

Are there any famous colours? 

Yep, some racing silks have become pretty iconic. Not only that, but silks that have a particularly interesting or long history can sell for big money – as can “plain” one-coloured silks, for example Godolphin’s Royal Blue, or John and Sue Magnier’s Dark Blue.

One well-known Irish jockey jacket is Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud – as worn below by Steven Clements after winning the Connacht Hotel Handicap 2013 on Edeymi, trained by Tony Martin.

Source: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Horse racing giant JP McManus’s colours are also distinctive, with their gold and green hoops inspired by the South Liberties GAA Club.

Tony McCoy and JP McManus, with Finger Onthe Pulse in 2010 Source: Go Racing

Any particularly wacky ones? 

Stars and stripes tickle your fancy? Or perhaps something inspired by a Disney villain? The only limit is your imagination, really. Here’s a list of favourites from UK Horse Racing:

If you’re not finished with the whole colours thing, and think you could give it a good stab yourself, Horse Racing Ireland have a game where you can choose your own colours – right down to design and markings. Give it a bash here. Let us know in the comments what your livery would be like…

Fancy doing something a bit different this weekend? Well, look no further than the Bellewstown Racing Festival this weekend. Lots of racing and lots of fun, on the hill of Crockafotha – and it’s been going since 1726. Find out more at bellewstownraces.ie.

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Day at the Races: Why do racehorses have such bizarre names?

About the author:

Fiona Hyde

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