Owner Wants To Name Thoroughbred ‘Sally Hemings’

By Off The BASN Sports Wire
Updated: June 2, 2005

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A thoroughbred owner filed a federal lawsuit seeking the right to name a 2-year-old filly after Sally Hemings, the slave who was the reputed mistress of Thomas Jefferson.

The Jockey Club, which regulates the naming of thoroughbred racehorses, denied use of the name on grounds that Hemings was a famous or notorious person, requiring stewards’ approval.

“Naming a thoroughbred horse ‘Sally Hemings’ may be offensive to persons of African descent and other ethnic groups” and may be offensive to Hemings’ descendants, Ogden Mills Phipps, chairman of The Jockey Club, wrote in a letter last year.

Garrett Redmond filed suit last week in U.S. District Court, seeking to force the Jockey Club to let him use the name and allow the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority to let him race the filly under the name.

“To name a horse after someone is an honor,” said Redmond, owner of Ballycapple, a farm in Paris, Ky. “I have a horse here named after my wife.”

Redmond, a history buff, thought the proposed name was perfect, since the filly’s mother is a mare named Jefferson’s Secret, who in turn was fathered by a stallion named Colonial Affair.

According to court filings, The Jockey Club initially wrote that Redmond would have to have Hemings’ written permission to use the name.

Redmond wrote back, “I will gladly get her permission if you can dig her up! Don’t be silly — it’s not a living person. By the way, did you get written permission when horses were named ‘Louis Quatorze’ or ‘Buddha’?” (Louis Quatorze is the French King Louis XIV.)

Shay Banks-Young of Columbus, Ohio, a descendant of Madison Hemings, who said he was the son of Jefferson and Sally Hemings, said Redmond’s plan sounded “absolutely ridiculous.”

“I can’t imagine somebody wanting to do something like that,” Banks-Young said.