LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday
that a filly can't be named "Sally Hemings" after Thomas
Jefferson's most famous slave and reputed lover.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that the
Jockey Club can legally bar horse owner Garrett Redmond from naming
his 4-year-old horse after Hemings.
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.
"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.
The Jockey Club is a private organization designated by Kentucky
to track and approve names of race horses. Without an approved
name, a horse cannot race at a Kentucky track.
Jockey Club president Alan Marzelli said Tuesday about a third
of the 60,000 names submitted each year are rejected, mostly
because they are identical or similar to names already used. But
this is the first time a complaint over a name has sparked a major
legal battle, he said.
"Since we first denied this name, we've issued over 100,000
names," Marzelli said. "It's pretty silly. I can't think of
another example in 24 years where we rejected a name and it started
a fight. People just pick another name."
Attorneys who represented Redmond didn't immediately return a
call for comment.
The horse, now known as "Awaiting Justice," ran at Churchill
Downs on July 1 and at Ellis Park in Henderson on July 25. She did
not finish in the top 3 in either race.
In May 2005, Redmond sued the racing authority and the Jockey
Club after his request to name the horse for Hemings was denied.
Redmond argued that the denial had deprived him of constitutional
U.S. District Senior Judge Karl Forester had sided with the
Jockey Club and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority in dismissing
Batchelder wrote that because the Jockey Club is a private
organization with power delegated by the state, it may restrict
free speech so long as it doesn't discriminate against a specific
She also quoted Shakespeare's "What's in a name?" and cited
the band America in rejecting Redmond's appeal.
"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.
"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