In the United States and Canada, Thoroughbred horses are registered with the Jockey Club. If you are trying to learn more information about your Thoroughbred's background and history, you can use his registration number to look him up in the Jockey Club's registry. The Jockey Club maintains records on more than 450,000 horses.
The Lip Tattoo
Thoroughbreds must be registered with the Jockey Club and marked with permanent lip tattoos before they are allowed on any legitimate racetrack. Tattooing is done for the purpose of easy identification and allows the horse's identity to be quickly verified and researched in the event questions arise. The tattoo is applied to the inside of the upper lip. Your horse's registration number is also his tattoo. Quarter horse and Standardbred racehorses may also be tattooed in a similar manner, though the Jockey Club does not keep records of tattoos on horses that are not Thoroughbreds.
Reading the Tattoo
The lip tattoo consists of one letter that indicates the year that the horse was born and then a four- or five-digit number. The older your horse is, the more difficulty you may have deciphering the tattoo. The Jockey Club recommends wiping the inside of the upper lip dry and massaging it to make it more readable. They also recommend viewing the tattoo with a flashlight or taking a photograph of it and then enhancing the contrast to make the numbers more visible.
Deciphering the Tattoo
Once you have your horse's registration number from his tattoo -- or if you are one of the lucky people who has a copy of their horse's original papers and does not have to try to decipher the tattoo -- you can research your horse online by going to www.registry.jockeyclub.com and accessing the interactive tattoo identification service. You can plug your horse's registration number into the service, and your horse's information will be pulled up electronically.
If you do not have your horse's full tattoo number or are having a hard time reading his tattoo, you can combine the information you do have about your horse, such as his markings, with the parts of the tattoo you can read to identify your horse. If you are still unable to determine your horse's history, contact the Jockey Club Registry and fill out the request for tattoo research and a staff member will check it for you. If your Thoroughbred was never tattooed and you do not have a copy of his papers, you will not be able to look up his information.
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